The Ottawa Senators’ season has officially been over for more than three weeks and was statistically over long before that. Yet, the team has still not made a decision behind the bench, after head coach Guy Boucher was fired in early March. Interim head coach Marc Crawford closed out the year and remains a candidate to take on the full-time job, but it was expected that the Senators would consider a number of names for the position. However, it has been very quiet on the coaching front, perhaps as the team still has yet to fill another position, President of Hockey Operations.
The other possibility is that the majority of the intriguing coaching candidates for GM Pierre Dorion could be assistants with playoff teams, who either remain focused on the postseason or were only recently eliminated. Hinting at this scenario is the first real leak of hiring news out of Ottawa in weeks: Pierre LeBrun reports that the team intends to interview Toronto Maple Leafs assistant coach D.J. Smith for the head coach position. Smith’s Leafs were eliminated from the postseason less than a week ago and only now has he become available for consideration.
Smith, 41, is an Ontario native who has worked with the Leafs since 2015 as an assistant. A long-time assistant with the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires, Smith got his break when he was named the head coach of the rival Oshawa Generals in 2012 and it didn’t take long for him to then move into his first NHL role. He would again be moving to another in-province rival if he makes the jump from Toronto to Ottawa. His experience working with younger players would certainly benefit him with the rebuilding Senators, as would his knowledge of the Maple Leafs, who pop up quite frequently on the schedule. Smith has the makings of a future NHL head coach and this does seem to be an ideal situation for him to make that jump.
In addition to Smith, The Athletic’s Chris Stevenson lists several other names expected to get interviews, many of which come as little surprise. Crawford, AHL Belleville head coach Troy Mann, and veteran Jacques Martin, also a candidate for the Buffalo Sabres’ opening, are obvious contenders for the Ottawa opening. However, a more intriguing name – like Smith – is also included in Providence College’s Nate Leaman. With a mix of experience, convenience, and upside among their candidates, it is finally looking like the Senators could soon take steps toward hiring their new head coach.