SportsSports feature

Senators Head Coach D.J. Smith Appears to Be On Borrowed Time in Ottawa

No one takes any pleasure in suggesting it, but the Ottawa Senators need a coaching change, a fact that’s become brutally apparent to anyone who’s watched the team over the past five years. And the list of reasons is long:


Another Poor Start


It’s December. The Ottawa Senators are in last place in their division and just lost to Columbus on Friday, the only team in the conference that’s worse than they are. And not just by points but in points percentage. So you can put away all the talk about games in hand. 

By anyone’s standards, that’s a bad start. 


Yes, DJ Smith and his staff inherited a rebuilding team, so he gets a two-year mulligan, maybe three if you’re really patient. He shouldn’t get five shots at this – not with their current team.


He’s Had More Than a Fair Chance


It’s his fifth season, and the Senators are on pace to miss the playoffs for a fifth season. Nobody survives that; at least, they shouldn’t.


A Losing Culture Setting In


It is a positive culture, with everyone getting along so nicely. But there’s also a losing culture setting in. You see it now near the end of losses, where the players seem more focused on getting even in the scrums than on the scoreboard. The players may like Smith, but the frustration and fragility are real. Most of the young core now trying to lead has no “good ol’ days” to draw from, making them think, “We’ve done it before; we can do it again.”


The Lack of Defensive Structure and Accountability


The skaters and goalies change, but the struggles on team defence remain. Defence is the easiest thing to teach. But players must be committed to it and work hard to be good at it. Either Smith needs to teach it better or hold people accountable when they cheat. If Smith had any solutions, he’d have tried them by now.


Best in Show


If the club wants to be “Best in Show,” look at the standard around the league. Since Smith was hired in Ottawa in 2019, some teams have fired multiple coaches. Heading into the season, Smith had coached 291 games with the Senators, the sixth most in the NHL. That trails only Jon Cooper, Mike Sullivan, Jared Bednar, and Craig Berube, who all have Stanley Cup rings. The other guy is Rod Brind’Amour, who, at .661, has a better regular season points percentage than any of the aforementioned Cup holders. Then there’s Smith, who hasn’t coached a single NHL playoff game yet.


We’re Up All Night to Get Lucky


Whether it’s terrible bounces, injuries, or officiating, Smith certainly hasn’t had much luck in Ottawa. If you’ve bought that voodoo, how much more bad luck are you willing to tolerate?


There Might Still Be Time to Save the Season


It won’t be easy, but a new coach can salvage the season. We know what will happen with the status quo because we’ve seen this movie multiple times. The Sens will start playing great once all playoff hope has been extinguished. 


So why hasn’t it happened already?


New owner Michael Andlauer and rookie GM Steve Staios are new to town and want to analyze everything for themselves. It’s almost like they’ve granted Smith a pardon for everything that happened before they arrived. Maybe they’re looking at the small picture and not the five-year window everyone else is. The new regime may still be giving people the benefit of the doubt because they haven’t been here to witness the frustrations of the past. 


Are they putting stock in the fact that the players say they like playing for Smith? One would hope not. For one, even if the players are telling the truth, most lack perspective. They haven’t played for anyone else in the NHL.


But more than that, no player will ever criticize their current coach, even in private conversations, because they know it might get back to the man who holds the key to their ice time.


Rip the bandaid off. Bring in a fresh voice. Do something. Because this can’t continue.

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