D.J. Smith is the new head coach of the Ottawa Senators, the team announced on Thursday.
The 42-year-old Smith had been an assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs for the last four seasons. Before that, his coaching career consisted of nine years in the Ontario Hockey League as an assistant with the Windsor Spitfires before moving on to the head coaching role with the Oshawa Generals where he won the 2015 Memorial Cup.
“D.J. Smith is a winner. We believe he is the best person to drive the development and success of the Ottawa Senators,” said general manager Pierre Dorion. “D.J is a great communicator and an exceptional strategist. His passionate approach, coupled with his ability to teach the game, is exactly what we were looking for throughout the process. We’re thrilled to welcome D.J. and his family to Ottawa.”
Smith replaces Marc Crawford, who took over as interim coach in March following the firing of Guy Boucher. It was three years ago that the Senators requested permission from the Maple Leafs to speak with Smith, but were denied and then moved to hire Boucher.
(This sadly squashes any chance of Patrick Roy working for Eugene Melnyk, which would have been glorious theatre.)
Others in the mix the Senators job reportedly included Troy Mann of AHL Belleville, Nate Leaman of Providence College, and in a blast from the franchise’s past, Dallas Stars assistant Rick Bowness, who was their first head coach from 1992-1995, and Pittsburgh Penguins assistant Jacques Martin, who was behind the bench from 1996-2004.
As Behind the Benches notes, one of Smith’s areas that he oversaw with the Maple Leafs was the penalty kill, which was a major Achilles’ heel in their seven-game Round 1 defeat to the Boston Bruins, checking in at a 56.3% success rate. During the regular season, the PK has dropped off slightly over the last three seasons going from 82.5% to 81.4% to 79.9% in 2018-19. While that number has gone down, his other responsibility, defense, has seen shots allowed rise from 31.9 per game in 2016-17 to 33.4 per game this past season.
Dorion is hoping that a youthful coach, who was handed a three-year deal, can mesh well with what will be a youthful roster of developing pieces like Drake Batherson, Logan Brown, Brady Tkachuk, and Thomas Chabot, among others.
Smith certainly has his backers around the NHL as he earned 8.3% of the vote among players in the NHLPA’s annual poll in 2017-18 asking which assistant would make the best head coach.