On Thursday, news came down the NHL wire that the Ottawa Senators have named D.J. Smith as their new head coach. The team announced a three-year agreement with Smith, who spent the past four seasons as an assistant coach with the Toronto Maple Leafs and working under Mike Babcock.
The Senators took their time with this hire. They interviewed a number of candidates including interim coach Marc Crawford and recently were seen chatting with Patrick Roy. In the end, Ottawa chose to go with a fresher coach with less head coaching experience but someone who could grow with the team as they rebuild for the future.
Smith will be facing the arduous task of making this Senator’s team a contender within those three years. He’s got some good young talent but was stripped of most of his star players at the last NHL Trade Deadline.
The organization has said they’d be willing to spend money to roster a competitive group but their history shows they’ve yet to really do so.
Why D.J. Smith?
Saying that from the first time they met with Smith the organization felt comfortable with him, it was about choosing someone who’d won as a junior coach had a lot of accountability and he carried a huge presence with a great knowledge of the game.
“D.J. Smith is a winner. We believe he is the best person to drive the development and success of the Ottawa Senators,” Senators general manager Pierre Dorion said in a team release. Dorion added that Smith is a great and an exceptional strategist. At the end of the day, Ottawa wanted someone who was passionate and could teach the young players on the Senators roster moving forward.
Prior his tenure with the Maple Leafs, Smith served as head coach of the OHL’s Oshawa Generals and won the Memorial Cup with the team in 2015. He was named OHL Coach of the Year in 2013-14 and won two Memorial Cup titles as an assistant coach in six seasons with the Windsor Spitfires before joining the Generals.
What Now in Toronto?
With Smith gone and Jim Hiller, Babcock’s other assistant, given permission to seek other opportunities and not coming back to the organization, the Maple Leafs needed to promote or hire someone. Bob McKenzie first reported the team would shortly announce that Paul McFarland has been hired to fill one of the vacancies. Within minutes of that report, the organization confirmed it to be true.
McFarland worked with D.J. Smith in junior hockey and was in FLA as an assistant coach last season. From Richmond Hill, Ontario, he first joined the coaching ranks in 2012, serving as an assistant with the Oshawa Generals for two seasons.
“I’m extremely excited to be coming home and joining the Maple Leafs organization,” said McFarland. “The Leafs have a great, young team and this is an amazing opportunity to work with Mike, his staff and these talented players.”
With some heavy coaching turnover in Toronto and Babcock already rumored to be on the warm seat (probably not hot yet), it will be interesting to see what happens in Toronto over the next few months, especially if the team struggles early in the season.