While D.J. Smith’s time as Ottawa Senators head coach didn’t provide the results the club was hoping for, it’s hard for anyone to say a bad word about the man’s character.
The affable 46-year-old was fired on Monday just over a quarter of the way through his fifth season with the club. Shortly after getting the news, Smith and his assistant, Davis Payne, who was also fired, headed to a nearby pub to reflect on their time in Ottawa and what just happened.
As they did, friends, work colleagues and players began to file in to join them, extending their best wishes – a testament to the love and respect the duo earned during their time here.
“I think at the end of the day, the players understood how much Davis and I cared about them and how much time and effort we put into it,” Smith told TSN 1200 radio on Wednesday morning. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get over the hump this year, whether it was injuries or whatever the case may be, but I feel that we did our job when it came to developing these young kids and getting them to the next level of their playing career.”
Smith says he sticks by the fact that if the team could have gotten healthy that there’d be a real push for the playoffs. He thinks that the Sens rebuild was done right, but that the club probably started the clock a little bit soon in talking about playoffs.
“I think this year was probably the only true and fair time (during his tenure) to say that this team should make the playoffs,” Smith said. “And I think that put a lot of pressure on the players and maybe slowed it down a bit.”
It couldn’t have been easy for Smith when the Senators hired Jacques Martin to come in during the middle of the season as a coaching consultant. TSN 1200 host Steve Llloyd asked Smith if he saw the Martin hire as a threat or was it sold to the staff as help?
“Well, I mean, it was sold as help, I guess,” Smith said. “At the end of the day, we didn’t have any success. I think we’re 1-5 since Jacques came in. I believe Jacques is a good man. I think he’s very knowledgeable. The timing of it was tough. We had just won a couple in a row and we tried to implement some of his things, but ultimately, there were a lot of voices.”
Smith looks forward to his next chapter in the game, saying he plans to study the league over the next month so that he’s ready when his next opportunity comes. For now, he’s pumped for Christmas and some serious family time.
Smith then volunteered one final thought for Sens fans.
“One thing I just want to say is, you know, stay behind your team,” Smith said. “Stay behind this new ownership. They’re gonna get it right, and they’ll be a winner in Ottawa before it’s over.”