But amid injuries to Norris Trophy-winning defenceman Erik Karlsson, centre Jason Spezza and goaltender Craig Anderson, it was MacLean who held it all together as the Senators managed to make the playoffs.
"For me it was important that I continue to set the expectations of the team at a high level but also be realistic about those expectations," MacLean said. "We had Erik Karlsson injured, we had Jason Spezza injured. We didn't have those two players playing in Binghamton. For us to expect someone to come up and be able to be those two players is not realistic and it's not fair to the players.
"We try to stay as real as we could game-by-game and give the players realistic expectations and a realistic way to play the game to have success."
Despite losing Spezza for all but five games and Karlsson for all but 17, the Senators had success in the form of a 56-point season. MacLean credited captain Daniel Alfredsson, the winner of the Mark Messier Leadership Award, along with Chris Phillips, Sergei Gonchar and Chris Neil, for providing a veteran presence given plenty of adversity.
When the injury bug started to become an epidemic for the Senators, MacLean first wondered, "Who's next?" Then, the 55-year-old did some impressive coaching.
"That's what good teams do is find a way to win," he said. "So we were challenged early in the season to find ways to win and I think our leadership group accepted that, and the quality of our young players that we were able to bring up accepted that."
Ottawa won with Kyle Turris as its leading scorer and players like defenceman Patrick Wiercioch and forward Mika Zibanejad playing major roles. MacLean also credited Anderson for his impressive season, along with young goalies Robin Lehner and Ben Bishop.
The Chicago Blackhawks didn't have to deal with as much adversity this season in large part to the play of captain Jonathan Toews, who captured the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the league's top defensive forward.
"It means the world," Toews said. "It's a tremendous feeling, I think, first of all, when you're mentioned in the same sentence after a full NHL season as guys like Pavel Datsyuk and Patrice Bergeron. To be able to go head-to-head with guys like that in the playoffs and to know them from the past, you understand how much they mean to their teams and how much they contribute offensively and defensively."
Toews narrowly beat Bergeron of the Boston Bruins to win his first Selke Trophy, after a season in which he won 59.9 per cent of his faceoffs and had a plus-28 rating. The 25-year-old centre pointed to his time at Shattuck-St. Mary's under coach Tom Ward as the point when he became a strong two-way player.
"I really understood the importance of playing good hockey on both ends of the rink," Toews said. "Since then I really worked on every little part of my game that I could."
Beat by Toews for Selke, Bergeron still got an award Friday, given the King Clancy for his humanitarian work. Tampa Bay Lightning right-winger Marty St. Louis won his third Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct. St. Louis already won the Art Ross Trophy by finishing the 48-game season with an NHL-best 60 points.
Ray Shero of the Pittsburgh Penguins was named general manager of the year, and Minnesota Wild goaltender Josh Harding, who battled back after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the off-season, got the Bill Masterton Memorial trophy for perseverance.
On a much different scale, MacLean showed plenty of perseverance in getting the job as Senators coach. The long-time assistant wondered if he had passed the expiration date for becoming an NHL head coach.
But experience kept MacLean from being "overwhelmed" by anything this season, and a berth in the playoffs provided validation that was only furthered by being coach of the year.
"I just think that sticking to it and still believing in what I did as an assistant coach has helped me now that I get the opportunity to be the head coach," MacLean said. "This kind of gives us credibility that all those times when I was thinking that I could do this that now this kind of gives me the credibility that I was right, I could coach in the league."