D.J. Smith

It’s Ottawa Senators Day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Ottawa Senators.

2018-19
29-47-6, 64 points (eighth in the Atlantic Division, 16th in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Did not qualify

IN:
Nikita Zaitsev
Connor Brown
Michael Carcone
Ron Hainsey
Tyler Ennis
Artem Anisimov
Ryan Callahan (LTIR)

OUT
Brian Gibboons
Oscar Lindberg
Zack Smith
Cody Ceci
Ben Harpur
Aaron Luchuk

RE-SIGNED:
Josh Norris
Anders Nilsson
Anthony Duclair

2018-19 Summary

Last season was an eventful one for the Senators organization. Not only did they finish last in their division, conference and the entire league, they also traded away their best forward, Mark Stone, and their franchise defenseman, Erik Karlsson. That’s rough.

Despite the fact that they traded Karlsson in September, the team got off to a decent start. They weren’t lighting the league on fire, but they had a respectable firsts two months of the season. Things turned after they dropped a pair of games to the Montreal Canadiens on Dec. 4 and 6. In the 10 games following those two losses, the Sens came away with just two victories.

Things ended up getting so bad for Ottawa that they finished in the basement of the NHL. The second-to-last team in the league was the Los Angeles Kings and they finished seven points ahead of the Senators. That’s a significant gap. The big issue, was that the Sens didn’t have their own first-round draft pick because they traded it the Colorado Avalanche for Matt Duchene.

Everyone in the NHL knows that the biggest issue right now is the owner. Eugene Melnyk doesn’t appear to be interested in spending the money to keep his star players in the fold and the fact that he’s turning off the fan base in the process isn’t helping either. Whether or not he’s capable of surrounding his team with the tools to succeed remains to be seen.

[MORE: Three Questions | Under Pressure | X-factor]

The Sens have a lot of good young prospects, but they’re in the middle of a rebuild that should take quite some time. Former Toronto Maple Leafs assistant coach D.J. Smith was hired to be the head coach this off-season and it’ll be up to him to get this group of youngsters ready to perform on the ice.

“Now it’s about trying to push kids to realize their potential,” Smith said, per NHL.com. “There is nothing more satisfying than to watch a guy push himself past the limit and become better than even he thought he could be. It’s in most kids; you just have to find a way to get it out of them. It’s something I really enjoy.

“We’re in a division (Atlantic) with some of the best offenses in the League — the Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning. It’s going to take time, but we’ll learn to get better together. We’re only going to get better by learning to play against teams like that.”

Cutting the goals against will be one of Smith’s biggest challenges. The Sens were the only team in the league that allowed more than 300 goals (302) last season.

Building this team from the ground up isn’t going to be easy and it’s going to take time, but Smith has to get them to take a positive step or two this season.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

D.J. Smith hired as new Ottawa Senators head coach

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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.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Leafs fill out coaching staff, hire Hiller, Smith and Brewer

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The Toronto Maple Leafs filled out Mike Babcock’s coaching staff naming three assistant coaches on Tuesday.

Jim Hiller and Andrew Brewer, who spent time with Babcock in Detroit, join the Leafs.

Toronto also added D.J. Smith to their coaching staff. Smith coached the Ontario Hockey League’s Oshawa Generals to a Memorial Cup victory last month.

Additionally, Matthew J. Herring joins the club as the team’s new head strength and conditioning coach.

“I’m excited to have them join the organization,” Babcock said in a statement. “We have a lot of work ahead of us but are all thrilled to be part of the Maple Leafs. We’re grateful for the cooperation afforded to us by the Detroit Red Wings, Oshawa Generals and San Antonio Spurs.”

Hiller spent the 2014-15 season on Babcock’s staff in Detroit overseeing the club’s power play. Prior to joining the Wings, the 46-year-old spent five seasons as head coach of the Western Hockey League’s Tri-City Americans.

“I’m excited at the opportunity of working again with Mike, and to also add to the value that both D.J. and Andrew bring,” Hiller said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to work with many great organizations – most recently the Red Wings – and am grateful for the chance to now join the Leafs.”

Brewer spent the 2014-15 season coordinating the team’s coaching staff in Detroit. Prior to joining the Wings, the 29-year-old spent three years with Hockey Canada as their video coach for several international events including Canada’s gold-medal team at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Smith led the Generals to a 51-11-2-4 record in 2014-15 on route to winning the Ontario Hockey League Championship and Memorial Cup. The 38-year-old won the OHL’s Coach of the Year award during the 2013-14 season after leading Oshawa to a regular season record of 42-20-0-6.

Herring joins the Leafs after spending the past two seasons as an athletic performance associate with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs. With the Spurs, his responsibilities included strength and conditioning, sports science and nutrition. The 29-year-old was a part of the San Antonio organization during their NBA Championship season in 2013-14.