According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, new Senators head coach D.J. Smith is expected to hire his own staff in Ottawa. Although GM Pierre Dorion made the final decision on hiring Smith, the team is in the process of finding a President of Hockey Operations and, until that is completed, it appears Dorion will stick with player personnel decisions while Smith is given control of the remaining coaching hires. The one exception though is goaltending coach Pierre Groulx. McKenzie adds that Groulx has already been confirmed as returning to the team next season in the same capacity. Groulx has spent the past three seasons as the Senators’ goalie coach and has a close relationship with veteran starter Craig Anderson. He also had success with Anders Nilsson last season, whose play improved noticeably following a mid-season trade from the Vancouver Canucks. Even if the decision were up to him, it is unlikely that Smith would have opted to move on from Groulx, who was one of the few things that worked well in Ottawa last year.
- Patrick Roy won’t be the next head coach of the Senators obviously, despite so much evidence pointing in that direction. But he won’t be the team’s President of Hockey Operations, either. TSN reports that Roy will return to his post as head coach and general manager of the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts. Roy purchased the Remparts in 1997 and served as GM and later head coach from 2004 to 2014 before being hired as head coach of the Colorado Avalanche. Roy resumed his role with the Remparts this past season and has decided to stay on with the team rather than continue to pursue other NHL opportunities.
- One interesting decision for Smith will be what to do with current AHL head coach Troy Mann. Mann was also in consideration for the Senators’ head coaching gig alongside Smith, but did not make the cut. Another relatively young coach like Smith, Mann has spent more than a decade now in the minor leagues with a number of different teams and varying degrees of success. However, he garnered some extra attention last year due to his strong work with the young members of the AHL’s Belleville Senators in his first season as the head coach. Mann remains under contract with the Senators it is up to Smith to decide how best to use a valued asset. With many of those top young players expected to play regular roles in Ottawa next season, he could make Mann an assistant on his staff to help with that transition. However, if he feels that Mann is better suited for the minor league level – or wants to avoid a challenge of authority from a fellow candidate – he may instead opt to leave Mann where he is in Belleville.
- One of the more exciting aspects of adding a new head coach, especially at this time of year, is the possibility of their former players being interested in playing for them once again. The Senators’ whopping $37.7MM in projected cap space means they are more or less a blank slate this off-season when it comes to exploring the free agent and trade markets. So who has ties to Smith, a long-time coach for the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires and Oshawa Generals? Well, one of Smith’s stars in his early days as an assistant in Windsor just so happens to be a known fixture on the trade block as well. The Anaheim Ducks’ Adam Henrique played three seasons under Smith and could very likely be on the move this summer as the Ducks seeks to shed salary. Smith could definitely push to acquire Henrique, who would immediately step into a top scoring role with Ottawa. Another name on the rumor mill who played for Smith briefly in Windsor is Zack Kassian of the Edmonton Oilers. Signed for one more year, Kassian would be an affordable, low-risk acquisition to bring some depth, experience, and toughness to the Ottawa lineup. A player who is not being forced out for salary reasons, but has nevertheless outstayed his welcome is the New York Islanders’ Michael Dal Colle. Dal Colle was one of Smith’s best players and leaders with the Generals and was selected No. 5 overall in 2014 due to his production in Oshawa. Yet, five years later, Dal Colle has seven points in 32 NHL games and is no longer considered part of the Islanders’ future core. They may be willing to sell low to the Senators, where the 22-year-old may have better luck under his old coach. On the free agent market, the defensive-minded Tom Kuhnhackl is a former Smith student who fit well under his old coach, but the intrigue here really lies with Smith’s Toronto connections. The man who ran the defense and penalty kill for the Maple Leafs could take a run at two high profile free agent defensemen – Jake Gardiner and Ron Hainsey – as well as two-way forward Par Lindholm, who Smith entrusted with ample shorthanded time in his first NHL season. Smith and the Senators may also flirt with the idea of an offer sheet for Toronto RFA Kasperi Kapanen, who Smith valued as a PK option but also brings a dynamic offensive game. The Leafs may have trouble matching an offer sheet for Kapanen against their tight cap crunch. Two other Toronto players with close ties to Smith are Nikita Zaitsev and Connor Brown, also potential trade casualties of the impending Toronto cap dilemma.