Senators: Smith a Safe but Smart Hire for Ottawa

For the Ottawa Senators, stability is everything. It’s going to have to be.

After a year peppered with tumult, the Senators have to get to some baseline of normalcy in order to proceed with the not-so-small task of icing a hockey team next season. That’s where head coach D.J. Smith comes in.

Ottawa announced the hiring of the new bench boss yesterday and social media has had a full day to get worked up over just how tepid the decision was. After all, Patrick Roy was on the table. So was Jacques Martin. And so on. Just about everyone has a better idea of who should coach the Senators and it’s hard to say that Smith was anyone’s list.

But he did catch the eye of the Senators and general manager Pierre Dorion, which is all that matters at this point. Coaching isn’t a popularity contest.

Smith has, to hear Dorion tell it, the tools required to coach this hockey team. He’s got passion, hockey know-how and a whole lot of energy. He didn’t hum and ha about the decision either. He didn’t hesitate for a second when Ottawa came calling and that says something because coaching this team is going to be tough.

The 14th coach in franchise history definitely has his work cut out for him, but the former defenceman knows what he wants. He spent the last four seasons as an assistant under Mike Babcock in Toronto and led Oshawa to the Memorial Cup in 2015.

In fact, in three years under Smith, the Oshawa Generals went 135-53-16. He was OHL Coach of the Year in 2013-2014.

“I’m absolutely excited for the opportunity to guide this young team,” Smith said. “We’re going to be exciting. We’re going to play fast. I think you’re going to see a team that works hard every night.”

Smith may not be the most dramatic name of the marquee, but that’s kind of for the best. The Senators don’t need to make a splash in terms of coaching hires. They need to get down to brass tacks and they need a coach who can generate the energy and capacity to do that. In Smith, they may have found their man.

As a player, Smith was physical. His career ended as the result of concussions, but he was always forging relationships and communicating. That level of communication will help him in Ottawa, especially when it comes to getting the most of his players.

“You have to speak their language, but you also have to give yourself to them,” Smith said. “Today’s players are smart, they know what you’re about. You need to know what they’re about.”

(Photo credit: NHL.com)

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