Is it Time for the Senators to Make a Coaching Change or Not?

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 07: Head Coach of the Ottawa Senators D.J. Smith watches a play develop on the ice against the Philadelphia Flyers on December 7, 2019 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

It’s often said that patience is a virtue. But even patience has an expiry date. 

Many Ottawa Senators fans hit a boiling point Saturday night as the club lost its fifth straight game and fell to third last overall in the NHL with a record of 4-7. Calls for a coaching change were trending hard on social media. You can take that at face value or just scroll through the 200 or so angry replies to a simple post about the final score, the Senators’ fifth straight loss.

D.J. Smith is now in his fourth season as head coach of the Senators. Even in the scorched earth rebuild he inherited, the team should be seeing gradual improvements that include better starts.

These are the club’s first 11 games in each of D.J. Smith’s four seasons at the helm.

2019-20: 3-7-1

2020-21: 2-8-1

2021-22: 3-7-1

2022-23: 4-7

There’s not much there to love. Every year, the Sens roster on paper got a little better, before finally getting a major injection of talent for this season. Everyone expected the Sens to finally get it going, to compete for a playoff spot and not be derailed by a bad start.

But the early results are almost exactly the same, with Smith launching the ship and having it immediately sail straight into an iceberg.

After Smith, the only head coaches with meaningfully longer tenures with their current clubs are generally Stanley Cup winners – Jon Cooper, Mike Sullivan, Craig Berube, and Jared Bednar. The one exception is Carolina’s Rod Brind’Amour, who boasts a .653 team points percentage and has the ‘Canes in contention every season.

The NHL is a results-oriented business and the results in Ottawa just aren’t there. Not only that, the same problems seem to persist. The Sens remain disorganized in their own zone. The coach keeps favouring veteran players who don’t have it anymore. Asking for a coaching change is not unreasonable at this point.

In addressing the media today, Dorion wasn’t having any of that talk, while casually referring to himself in the third person.

One thing about Pierre Dorion, Pierre Dorion is loyal. Pierre Dorion is very loyal,” said Dorion. “I think D.J. has done a good job. He’s shown that he can win. I’m not giving votes of confidence or anything. I think that’s foolish. D.J. is our coach. He’s going to be our coach. I have faith in how this team plays under D.J.

We’ve had some defensive zone breakdowns but that’s not just on the D. Sometimes it’s the five guys in your own end. There’s no going around that. But I got a lot of faith in D.J. Smith being the coach of this team.”

Along with the vote of confidence that he clearly gave, despite not wanting to, Dorion also defended the team’s start, labelling it bad luck, as if were an exception and not the rule – almost like the past three starts under Smith never happened.

I know our record doesn’t indicate it and a lot of us are frustrated by the 4-7 record,” said Dorion. “For me, (with) a few bounces we’d be in a way better spot. We haven’t been as fortunate. Our seven losses have been by a goal… I think we’re playing hard. I think analytically, five on five, expected goals against, the differential, we’re sixth in the league right now. Last year, we were 30th.”

If only the NHL gave out points for that.

Meanwhile, Smith knows his situation. He’s on the coaching hotseat right now and the slump cannot continue much longer. But he also takes solace in the club’s 5 on 5 play.

I’m a big boy,” said Smith. “I’m well aware we have to win hockey games. And I pull no punches about it. I’ve liked our 5 on 5 game. I think our special teams have let us down. Whether it be the numbers or whether it’s unlucky goals going in on the penalty kill. Whatever the case may be, special teams has to be better. I think our goaltending has been good. I think there’s a lot of things that point to a better record. Now it’s time to just do it.”

It’s actually way past the time for beat up old Nike slogans, though there’s definitely nothing wrong with staying positive. But like patience, positivity also has an expiry date. And if the Senators want to save their coach’s job, they’d better get very hot, very fast.

By Steve Warne

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