In the midst of an 11 day NHL all-star break and a four game winning streak, everything seemed calm in the often turbulent world of the Ottawa Senators.
It was quiet… too quiet.
Meanwhile, the Belleville Senators still had a couple of days before their AHL all-star break. On Thursday night, they defeated Rochester 5-3 and two of the organization’s top prospects led the way. After missing 30 games due to injury, Roby Jarventie had a goal and an assist, while Mads Sogaard made 35 saves for the win.
So things seemed to be running smoothly down on the farm as well.
But then shortly after the game, the Senators announced they had fired Belleville head coach Troy Mann, currently in his fifth year on the job.
“A change like this is a difficult decision, but we are aligned internally and feel this is necessary for the short and long-term growth of the players in our organization as well as the cohesion in systematic play between Ottawa and Belleville,” said Belleville Senators GM Ryan Bowness. “I want to thank Troy and his family for their contributions to the Belleville community.”
“While a change at the head coach position during the season is not an ideal scenario, we felt it was necessary to deliver improved team performance,” said Ottawa GM Pierre Dorion.
That Dorion quote is a head scratcher. If you had polled 100 fans and asked them which head coach in the Sens organization was on borrowed time, 100 of them would have said Ottawa head coach D.J. Smith. Under Smith, the Senators are about to miss the playoffs for a fourth straight year, while Mann was seemingly the well-regarded minor league coach who’s been mentioned again and again as a fine developer of young talent. Former Senator Nick Paul, for one, credits Mann with helping to turn his career around.
But something obviously changed. And Belleville is also struggling this season, sitting sixth in the AHL’s North Division with 38 points and a 17-22-3-1 record.
Bowness, who wasn’t around for Mann’s previous four seasons in Belleville, obviously didn’t like what he was seeing down on the farm.
— Belleville Senators (@BellevilleSens) February 3, 2023
Bowness’s reference to “the cohesion in systematic play between Ottawa and Belleville” suggests Mann may have been teaching different team tactics than the ones Smith has vainly been trying to implement in Ottawa. That is a sensitive area for the Sens. Since the day he arrived, Smith’s teams in Ottawa have struggled to stay organized in defensive zone coverage.
If Mann were trying to do things his own way in Belleville, it wouldn’t remotely be the reason for the ongoing NHL struggles, but it wouldn’t be ideal either. And it would certainly be seen as insubordination by the decision makers in Ottawa’s front office. That group includes Ottawa’s other assistant GM, Trent Mann, who just happens to be Troy’s brother. It will be fascinating to see Trent’s reaction to his big brother’s dismissal or if it affects his ability to continue with the current group.
When contacted by Marc Brassard from Le Droit, Troy Mann refused to comment on his dismissal or a tweet from TSN’s Claire Hanna who quoted a source that said the firing was due to “emerging trust issues.”
Bien dit. Offert à Troy Mann de commenter son congédiement ce matin et il n’a pas accepté l’offre. Il demeure sous contrat avec l’organisation jusqu’à la fin de la présente saison, il ne peut donc pas parler s’il veut être payé. https://t.co/nVjsf700fP
— Marc Brassard (@mbrassard) February 3, 2023
Assistant coach David Bell, a former Ottawa 67s defenceman, will take over as Belleville’s interim head coach for the remainder of this season. He’ll make his debut Saturday before the B-Sens hit the all-star break Sunday.
By Steve Warne