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Guest Writer: Potential Senators Coaching Options

March 28, 2024, 1:27 PM ET [119 Comments]
Sens Writer
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Guest Writer: DJ Grimm

Now that the trading deadline is done, the next item/issue for the Ottawa Senators to tackle is the head coaching position, soon to be vacated by the classy Jacques Martin.

Like a lot of Sens fans, I decried the Sens being forced to stick with DJ Smith at the start of this season as head coach for the team. It was understandable at the time, given how late the new ownership officially came on board. There was also Andlauer’s dual message of patience and no quick fixes. But for those who felt DJ Smith was not the right coach for this team (and why that debate rages still to this day is beyond me) it felt like having to wait to make a change sunk the season, especially when the team immediately failed to respond to the raised expectations entering the season.

Looking ahead to next year, it is imperative that the Sens make the right coaching change and do it quickly. The hope is they will (finally) throw some money at the position. And they need immediate success. In my opinion, the Sens need a coach who has at least four of the following six attributes:

- Is not a player’s coach and will hold them accountable (bench someone occasionally)
- Has a system, especially in the defensive zone, and can get the players to follow it
- Has pedigree and experience and playoff performer
- Will entice the players and fanbase and raise expectations.
- Can work/coach younger players
- Wants to come to Ottawa


Looking at the coaching options out there now (and who might be available), there is a lot to like. There is also the potential for disaster. Candidates will likely include:

John Gruden: The oft-mentioned present head coach of the Toronto Marlies, the AHL affiliate of the Maple Leafs. The (assumed) frontrunner due to his history and familiarity to both Staios and Andlauer via coaching the OHL Hamilton Bulldogs. Doesn’t have the pedigree and experience I feel is necessary for this team. Feels like DJ Smith 2.0 (comes from Leafs organization, lack of NHL head coach experience, can be had cheap). May not be available if the Leafs lose a playoff round, as they would probably bounce Keefe as HC (which is a familiar refrain in this article) and might go for an internal option for replacement.

Mike Sullivan: HC in Pittsburgh right now. For some reason is taking a LOT of heat for the Penguins’ struggles this year, where that blame rests solely with Dubas and Hextall, and could be fired at season’s end. Would be a great fit for the Sens, in my opinion. Will be in great demand if available and would cost. Could end up in Toronto if Keefe is fired.

Craig Berube: Has close ties to Poulin, and won a Stanley Cup. But would he want to come to Ottawa? (I think it would have happened already if so). He can pick and choose his next destination and is probably waiting to do so. Could also end up in Toronto.

Daniel Alfredsson: Hard no. Alfredsson needs way more coaching experience. Should coach a team in Sweden or be an assistant somewhere else first. Before you say, “Look at St. Louis in Montreal!” actually look at St. Louis in Montreal. The team can’t take the chance on a bad decision. Love the man, but no.

Chris Kelly: Tempting, but no. Again… they need someone who is a playoff performer and has experience. But I do like him as an option over Gruden/Alfredsson or Keefe/Shaw (see below).

Todd McLellan: Fired by the Los Angeles Kings with a winning record this season. Well-respected league-wide and has the experience and pedigree the position needs in Ottawa… BUT his teams missed the playoffs in six of the last nine seasons. Still, I like him better than most.

Sheldon Keefe: Could happen but would we want it? I’ve got to think if Pittsburgh fires Sullivan, and Toronto fires Keefe, that Dubas may hire Keefe. Because…you know…Dubas. Hard pass for me.

Dean Evason: Fired by the Wild this year. Did a LOT with a team in cap Hell. Seems to work well with younger players. Fiery, makes his players accountable at both ends of the ice. Seems interested in Ottawa. But a very “meh” choice.

Brad Shaw: Assistant coach in Philly, and former Sens player. Had a .500 record as an interim NHL coach during a very short stint. Often mentioned as the “next guy” to get/deserve a HC position in the league. Again…lack of experience (especially in the playoffs) warns me off.

Joel Quenneville: Has a track record of success but hasn’t coached in a while. Radioactive…because of that may be available and willing to come to Ottawa. Seems like more a coach who likes and relies on veterans in his lineup. Won some Cups. But so radioactive. Would be a polarizing choice. A risk…something which the GM and owner seem to be adverse to so far.

Claude Julien: Has the experience but seems so old and so far removed from coaching. Understands defense and appeals to the French fanbase of the Sens (is there one?). But again, I think if he wanted to be the HC and the Sens wanted him to be the HC, it would have happened already.

My choices? In order of preference: Sullivan (if available), McLellan (if willing) and Berube (if wanting) and Evason (if options run out). Seems like Gruden is inevitable and the Sens are just waiting for the AHL/NHL season to end to make it official.

I’m sure there are one or two more choices that I haven’t thought of. Feel free to share.
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