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Recapping The Tenure Of DJ Smith
When DJ Smith took over as head coach in the 2019-2020 season, he faced the difficult task of leading a young rebuilding franchise. Though the Senators have yet to secure a playoff berth during Smith’s tenure, his impact on the team’s culture and the development of its young players should not be understated.
In terms of overall performance, Smith’s record stands at 120 wins, 139 losses, and 32 overtime losses, for a points percentage of .467%. While the team’s record may not scream success, it’s important to note that the Senators were in a rebuilding phase up until recently and have prioritized the development of their young talent over immediate playoff contention.
One of the most noteworthy aspects of DJ Smith’s tenure with the Senators has been his ability to build a positive team culture and develop strong relationships with the Senators. Numerous players have praised Smith for his passion, communication skills, and dedication to their growth as individuals and as a team. Under his guidance, the once-young prospects have flourished into primary contributors at the NHL level.
The primary blemish on DJ Smith’s resume is that the Senator’s have had a continued playoff absence since he took over. While the Senators have become a more competitive team, they have still failed to take the next step, making the playoffs. Even though the Senators were described as a fringe playoff team this past year, they still finished underneath several others who were weaker than them on paper.
If DJ Smith returns to Ottawa next season, he will undoubtedly be motivated to lead the Senators to their first playoff appearance since the 2016-2017 season. With a strong foundation of young talent, the team should be a legitimate contender to make the playoffs. This season will be DJ Smith’s test to see if he is a winning coach or a guy who develops young talent effectively.
Recently, Ottawa Senators forward Alex DeBrincat’s future with the team has turned towards being unlikely. As reported by Pierre LeBrun, DeBrincat’s camp has submitted a list of his preferred destinations in the event of a trade. While this could be the Senators preparing for all situations, it seems more likely than not that DeBrincat will get traded.
Why does this relate to head coach DJ Smith? It is no secret that Alex DeBrincat struggled with his new team this past season. As fans could see, he transitioned into playing a different style of hockey that he struggled to grasp. One of the biggest knocks on DJ Smith is the type of system, or lack thereof, that he applies to the Senators. He plays a heavy dump-and-chase style, which many have argued is less effective than a possession-based style. The prime example of this is Alex DeBrincat.
It is possible that the current system DJ Smith runs has frustrated Alex DeBrincat and has minimized his confidence in signing long-term with the team. While this may seem like an unfair assessment, I would like to raise the fact that DeBrincat is waiting for ownership finalization before negotiating long-term in Ottawa. While this is an unusual situation, one potential reason could be that he is waiting to see if ownership decides to bring in a new head coach.
If DJ Smith’s systems are driving players away, it does raise a concern to me that he could be underutilizing the talent on this team. While it is no secret the players love DJ Smith, it is also true that many of them have no other point of reference at the NHL level. Most of the core in Ottawa has only played under DJ Smith at the NHL level.
If you want to hear more about Alex DeBrincat and the rumors surrounding him, check out these articles.
Should DJ Be Brought Back
In my opinion, I believe that it is time for the Ottawa Senators to move on from DJ Smith. As shown through the past four seasons, he is very effective at developing young talent and building a good culture in the locker room. DJ’s systems concern me as the old-school dump-and-chase style is fading from the NHL. Looking around the league, most of the top contenders have adopted a possession style of play. If the Ottawa Senators want to become legitimate Cup contenders, I want to see them apply this style as quickly as possible.
If DJ Smith is to come back to the team, I will be intrigued to see what he can do with a complete roster that has legitimate playoff aspirations. There is no hiding it this season for the Ottawa Senators. Playoffs or bust is the expectation for the team. Notable is that if the team once again struggles in November, DJ should be replaced before the season slips away.