Senators News & Rumors: Smith, Tkachuk, Ostapchuk & Latimer

The World Hockey Championship, the WHL Playoffs, and the King Clancy nominees all have a bit of Ottawa in them and are generating quite a bit of buzz around the fanbase. Senators head coach DJ Smith will be on the bench for Team Canada as they get set to play in the IIHF World Hockey Championship overseas, and he opened up to talk about the future of the Senators. Brady Tkachuk was nominated for the King Clancy Award, and a pair of Senators prospects are set to contend for the WHL Championship and move on to the Memorial Cup.

DJ Smith’s Uncertainties About Future with Senators

DJ Smith recently spent some time with Ian Mendes of The Athletic and opened up about some of the uncertainties he has about his job security moving forward with the sale of the Senators (from ‘Senators’ D.J. Smith opens up about coaching uncertainty: ‘This is a unique situation’, The Athletic, May 9, 2023). Often, when a new ownership group comes in, they bring in some of their own personnel. With this sale process likely leading into at least the middle of the summer, it may be too late for the ownership team to move on from the coach and find an adequate replacement, so that should be giving Smith some confidence.

Ottawa Senators head coach D.J. Smith
Ottawa Senators head coach D.J. Smith (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)

On the other hand, Smith made a really good point that many seem to overlook when talking about their preferences for the future behind the bench. This is the first season under his coaching regime that the team was supposed to be relatively competitive at all. They weren’t eliminated from contention until their third-last game of the season. Add in a full season of Josh Norris and Jakob Chychrun, and some better luck with health, and this team is certainly capable of making the playoffs.

Playoffs are always the goal, but this season, Smith had a roster worthy of setting that as a fair goal. Judging him on his absence from the playoffs isn’t fair.

If Smith is to return behind the bench, which is the most likely scenario, he will have a short leash. The team has struggled mightily in the first six weeks of each of the past two seasons and has all but eliminated their playoff hopes very early in the season. That will be intolerable this season. A fast start to the year and this team should be able to find season success.

In Mendes’ interview, he also spoke with Andre Tourigny, head coach of the Arizona Coyotes, and he had quite a few great things to say about Smith. One thing we all know is that players love Smith. Even in the team’s darkest spots of the season, the leaders called for fans to stop demanding he be fired, and took ownership of the disappointing play. The majority of the players on the roster have publicly stated how much they enjoy playing for him. Add in some success next season and they will emphasize that even more.

“I don’t want to be arrogant, but it will be their loss. Because D.J. Smith will be in the NHL as a coach for a long time, wherever he goes, everybody will love him. The players. His bosses. His fellow coaches. I think Ottawa is fortunate to have him.”

Andre Tourigny via The Athletic (from ‘Senators’ D.J. Smith opens up about coaching uncertainty: ‘This is a unique situation’, The Athletic, May 9, 2023)

This type of praise from another coach in the NHL doesn’t come around often, even if they have spent multiple years coaching the same IIHF team.

Brady Tkachuk is the Senators’ King Clancy Nominee

The King Clancy Memorial Trophy is awarded “to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.”, per the NHL award descriptions.

Recent winners have included:

  • 2021-22 – New Jersey Devils defenseman P.K Subban for his work with the Montreal Children’s Hospital and P.K Subban Foundation, while also having a seat on the NHL’s Player Inclusion Committee.
  • 2020-21 – Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne for his work with the 365 Fund and Best Buddies organizations.
  • 2019-20 – Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba for his work in helping form the Hockey Diversity Alliance and donations made throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tkachuk has been nominated for the program that he and his fiancé Emma Farinacci have started alongside the Boys & Girls Club (BGC) of Ottawa. The program ‘Tkachuk’s Captains’ supports the BGC in fundraising and hosting events, but also does its part in supporting a diverse group of people in the Ottawa area to allow them access to resources they need to reach their full potential.

Brady Tkachuk Ottawa Senators
Brady Tkachuk, Ottawa Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Senators’ statement talks about how they will participate in activities and programming that will encourage physical activity, team environments, leadership, and the development of new skills.

The fanbase and city of Ottawa instantly fell in love with the impact Tkachuk has made on and off the ice. He and his fiancé creating a name for themselves in the community is a true testament to how much they love the city of Ottawa, and that is reciprocated by the fans. Other players have done work with the BGC across Canada, including Marc-Andre Fleury doing his part for the Whitney Pier BGC located just outside of Sydney, Nova Scotia.

When these players put in the effort to be a part of the community, it really makes an impact. In my experience at that specific BGC, the impact that Fleury made over a decade ago still resonates through all of the kids, and even the staff. This stuff really makes a difference.

Ostapchuk, Latimer Join the ICE In WHL Final

The Winnipeg ICE are set to face off against the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL Final to see who moves on to the Memorial Cup. Game 1 will take place Friday (May 12) and the two best teams in the league, and arguably the entire Canadian Hockey League, will start an exciting series. The Senators have a pair of prospects competing with the ICE, that being Zack Ostapchuk and Carson Latimer.

Related: Senators Prospect Zack Ostapchuk Traded to WHL’s Winnipeg ICE

Ostapchuk had quite an impressive season. The Senators selected him 39th overall in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft and since then, he has been improving with each game he plays. Since being traded to the ICE, he has been playing in a significantly reduced role from his time with the Vancouver Giants, but that isn’t his own doing. The ICE were already an elite team before acquiring Ostapchuk and he still registered 38 points in 34 games with less ice time than the Giants.

Zack Ostapchuk Team Canada
Zack Ostapchuk, Team Canada (Photo by Andy Devlin/ Getty Images)

In the playoffs so far, he has been a goal-scoring machine. In his first 10 games, Ostapchuk recorded eight goals. He is without a goal in his last three, though. Four of his eight goals have come as the opening goal, which is a huge impact on any game.

Latimer has also been in a reduced role with the ICE, only recording 12 points in 22 games since being acquired. He has been in a defense-first depth role with the team, and they have no shortage of production from the rest of the lineup. It is important to look at players in the CHL Playoffs and look beyond the point totals. Latimer was a fourth-round draft pick, and on such a stacked team, nobody was expecting him to carry the load offensively. His three points in nine playoff games this year aren’t outstanding, but he has been important in his own way, including getting an assist on the series-clinching goal against the Saskatoon Blades.

It will be an exciting series, and if you have any interest in following the Senators prospects, it will be one of the best series of junior hockey you will be able to see.