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Senators fire D.J. Smith; name Jacques Martin as interim coach

December 18, 2023, 8:57 PM ET [151 Comments]
Sens Writer
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Written by Ken Hawkins (a.k.a. khawk)

The inevitable has finally happened in Ottawa, as it was announced on Monday that head coach D.J. Smith was being fired along with assistant coach Davis Payne. Jacques Martin was immediately given the responsibility of interim head coach, which comes just 12 days after being named as Senior Advisor to the coaching staff. Daniel Alfredsson will also be given an assistant coach position, which perhaps sets into motion a longer-term coaching succession plan. Jack Capuano was retained as an assistant coach, but it remains to be seen what his future holds. If nothing else, it continues a very positive trend under new owner Michael Andlauer of reconnecting the current team with players/staff from the franchise's most successful years.

It was fairly evident that D.J. Smith was under increased scrutiny since the departure of former GM Pierre Dorion, who had repeatedly endorsed and defended Smith. And in fairness, when Smith was hired in 2019/20 it was clear that the job was mainly to start grooming the young players, and help them transition through a difficult rebuild where the payroll would effectively circumvent the league's cap floor. However, with the team now loaded with young talent and the payroll back up to the cap ceiling, it became clear that the results just weren't there. Many had speculated that Smith's future would depend on the team's early-season performance, and the team's 11-15-0 start this year is eerily similar to the 11-14-1 start they had back in 2019/20, when the team's roster more closely resembled that of an expansion team from the pre-lockout era.

As for the strategy of this move, it's hard not to agree with Staios/Andlauer. Even if they wanted to leave room for a prospective new GM to hire their own coach, Martin brings a wealth of experience to the table and his established role as Senior Advisor allows for the flexibility to retain his services regardless of his tenure. And any objective analysis of the Senators' season will reveal a critical lack of defensive structure and attention to detail, which are undeniably Martin's greatest strengths as a coach. Alfredsson also brings a level of competitiveness, tenacity, and respect that will perhaps change the tone in the locker room as well. D.J. Smith may have been popular and close with the players, but there's little evidence that he was able to effectively hold players to account. Expect that to change.

For the team's promising core of young talent, this is the final push out of the nest - and a clear message that it's time to start winning games. It was both noteworthy and commendable for players like captain Brady Tkachuk to maintain their vocal support for D.J. Smith, but it's clear that an NHL learning curve still exists for this team that just wasn't being addressed. This move is clearly meant to address that gap, and perhaps serve as something of a shot across the bow for a group of players who've yet to meet expectations. Because it could very well be that a persistent lack of results going forward could result in a significant trade to shake things up in the locker room, likely involving at least one of the team's young core. One way or another, the season just got a lot more interesting as a Senators fan.

What do you think of the team's decision to fire Smith/hire Martin? Please comment below, and thanks as always for reading!
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