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Senators: D.J. Smith’s Mysterious Benching of Mathieu Joseph

Photo by Andrea Cardin/NHLI via Getty Images

Senators head coach D.J. Smith threw a serious curve ball at the Ottawa media on Wednesday morning.

Smith announced that after long absences, forwards Josh Norris and Mathieu Joseph were both healthy enough to play on Wednesday night. This was great news for Senators fans, who had watched the club’s bottom two lines work hard for several weeks, but accomplish almost nothing in the way of secondary scoring. 

Now Norris could slide back into the top six, bumping Shane Pinto down to the third line where he would surely play with the incoming Joseph. Those two were excellent together early in the season. But Smith used a coach’s challenge to what seems like a good and obvious plan.

“Yeah, Norris will play. Joseph won’t,” said Smith.

“Everything else stays the same.”

 

“What’s Mathieu Joseph’s status?” asked reporter Ian Mendes.

 

“He just came back, but he’s not gonna play tonight,” replied Smith.

 

“Can I make sure I get this right? Is Mathieu Joseph a healthy scratch?” asked Mendes.

 

“Yes,” said Smith.

 

“Any elaboration on that?”

 

“No.”

In the absence of clarity, social media immediately went into speculation mode. With almost zero room for error this season, why would you bench a player like Joseph who’s better than at least 4 or 5 Sens forwards who will dress on Wednesday night? 

Remember, Joseph is the player that GM Pierre Dorion liked so much, he was willing to deal away a fan favourite in Nick Paul, who currently has more goals this season than any Ottawa Senator not named Tim Stutzle. In fact, Dorion says he hadn’t made up his mind about dealing Paul until the Lightning dangled the name Mathieu Joseph.

Another layer to the benching is the fact that the Senators are playing Pittsburgh the next two games and Joseph’s brother, Pierre-Olivier plays for the Pens. More than 50 family members and friends had bought tickets to the game in Ottawa Wednesday night to watch the Josephs square off.

There’s a handful of possibilities as to why Joseph is out.

  1. Joseph is currently involved in trade talks. That seems unlikely. Joseph is good, but he’s not a superstar. An acquiring team won’t be giving up so much for Joseph that they cannot afford to have him getting injured.
  2. Joseph has personal issues off the ice. It is worth nothing that Joseph was supposed to be out for just two weeks with his injury. But it’s now been almost six weeks. But if this were personal issues, then his family wouldn’t be loading up on game tickets.
  3. D.J. Smith thinks he has 12 better forward options than Joseph right now. This is total nonsense, of course. I refuse to believe an NHL coach could possibly believe that, but if he does, it’s something else to add to the list of Smith’s fireable offences.
  4. Joseph crossed a line with Smith somehow. Joseph broke a major team rule or did something offside. Like, really offside.

I tend to give Smith the benefit of the doubt here and assume a big line was crossed.

Smith is already hanging by a thread and has to know that Joseph gives him a better chance to win. He knows that the family bought a bunch of tickets to watch the Joseph brothers play. He has to know how badly it will play with Joseph’s teammates or even Pierre Dorion if he did this over something minor rule break, or because he thinks Joseph is not among his best 12 forwards.

We may never get the full story, but it sure it’s a curious situation.

By Steve Warne

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