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Ottawa Senators Mid-Season Grades: Coaching + Management

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The S7S staff grade the management and coaching staff at the halfway mark

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Toronto Maple Leafs Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

After playing 33 games so far, the Ottawa Senators have shown us all their strengths and their painful weaknesses. It hasn’t been a smooth sailing season but nobody expected a playoff performance. That being said, there are many positives that can be taken out of the past few months including some of Pierre Dorion’s work as well as the willingness of DJ Smith to adapt at times.

The debate has always been on where to allocate the blame. Does Pierre Dorion shoulder the blame for the players he acquired or is DJ Smith responsible for making sure the ineffective players don’t see ice time? A coach has to manage with what he’s given and while Smith has a lot to play around with, I think Dorion hasn’t exactly given him the ideal set of cards.

Let’s see how the staff decided to grade these two gentlemen:

DJ Smith: B-

DJ smith has come a long way since the beginning of the season. His surprising moves of benching Colin White and using Cedric Paquette in the most unusual ways put a target on him. There was a point where there were rumours that he wants to bench Drake Batherson but those were quickly dealt with as Drake just said, don’t you dare and went on a historic point tear. The thing that has had fans and this staff feel different about Smith is that as the season went on, he was willing to let go of some of his strategies and adapt to what is truly working. He’s not afraid of using the young forwards in high stake situations and has done a great job building the confidence of the likes of Tim Stützle and Josh Norris.

Defensive deployment is where Smith still struggles, he preaches accountability and for the most part makes players pay for it until it comes to one Erik Gudbranson. I understand he’s a veteran and an acquisition that Dorion wants to defend but the fact that he has yet to see a game in the press box is beyond baffling. The real victim of all this is young Erik Brännström who has struggled to build any consistency or confidence at an NHL level. It’s frustrating to watch but every coach has this one player that they are attached to an for Smith it was Derek Stepan on forward (before his injury) and Erik Gudbranson on defense.

The other area that strikes me as odd is DJ Smith’s willingness to keep a goalie in long after it’s evident that he should be pulled. I understand that pulling a goalie does a lot of damage for a their confidence but it can’t be worse then letting him stay in to let in 3 more bad goals or so. That being said, it’s hard to blame goaltending on DJ Smith where this is a situation that truly implies having to work with what you’re given and whatever healthy parts you have left.

It won’t be fair to assess DJ Smith without giving him credit for making an effort to engage with fans. One of his most legendary moments of this season:

Pierre Dorion: D+

Where do we start with Pierre Dorion? I want to give him credit for his drafting skills but whatever good he does in the draft, he offsets tenfold with his trades and acquisitions.

Many will forgive him for Cedric Paquette and Alex Glachenyuk as he recovered from that by brining back Ryan Dzingel so he got saved by the bells here.

Erik Gubranson stands out as one of Pierre Dorion’s most frustrating acquisitions, not only because it is evident that he is not a good fit but the fact that he has been a glaring liability almost every night now. I get the need to replace local kid Cody Ceci, but can we not find a local kid who can actually play good hockey? Maybe you should have kept JG Pageau.

Braydon Coburn is another player that really made no sense from the beginning and continues to be a completely failed match. At least Coburn isn’t getting a ton of ice time.

Everyone was excited for Matt Murray and Evgeny Dadonov to join the Ottawa Senators and while “Daddy” has given us some great moments, he has generally underperformed. I can’t say I blame Dorion for the results of those two players but in hindsight, he should have seen all the warning signs with Matt Murray. A lot of us ignored them too so there’s that.

The additions of Austin Watson and Artyom Zub may be what saved Dorion from getting a total “F” ranking. Zub in particular has been a breath of fresh air to a team in need of good defensive surprises. Zub’s composure and exceptional hockey intelligence has everyone excited and now it’s on Dorion to make sure he can retain him past this season. Watson on the other hand is just the perfect fourth liner. He plays with a purpose every night and is willing to do the hard and painful work for the team in any given situation especially when it comes to blocking shots as we’ve seen in the past few games.

How would you rate our management and coaching? Were we too harsh on either? Do you expect to see Smith and Dorion in the long term plans of the team?