Reacting to Friedman and Garrioch: DJ Smith and Roster Speculation

Who should DJ Smith’s assistants be? Should Jason Spezza be on next year’s roster? Will Cody Ceci be signed to a long-term extension? All of that, and more!

Last week was busy for the Ottawa Senators, and for once, it was primarily for hockey-related reasons. With the addition of DJ Smith as the club’s thirteenth head coach and the 2019 NHL Draft looming, a couple of prominent media members published articles containing some Sens-related tidbits that I felt like reacting to in hopes that it generates some good discussion.

We’ll start with Elliotte Friedman, whose regular 31 Thoughts column provided some good context for the DJ Smith hire, and fuelled some roster speculation:

  1. Friedman estimates the salary of the average bench boss at $2.5 - $3M per season. He notes that there are six coaches around $5M or higher, and estimates that four of them are in the Atlantic Division (Babcock, Quenneville, Julien, Krueger). Dorion was emphatic in stating that money wasn’t considered when securing DJ Smith’s services, but I can’t help but wonder what his three-year deal comes in at.
  2. When the NHLPA conducted their annual player poll in 2018, DJ Smith received the most votes for the current assistant coach who should be the NHL’s next head coach, with 8.3% of the votes (n=216). We know that the Sens wanted to interview him as early as 2016, but were denied by Lou Lamoriello. Smith was almost the Isles head coach last year, nearly following his ex-GMs departure to Long Island, until Barry Trotz and the Washington Capitals parted ways. Ottawa may have acted now because Smith was getting attention from other teams, with Friedman speculating that he was on Ken Holland’s shortlist of potential interviewees for Oilers head coach. That list included names like Scott Gordon, Glen Gulutzan, Lane Lambert, and John Stevens. Ex-Coyotes head coach and current advisor for the Seattle expansion group, Dave Tippett, is expected to be named head coach there.
  3. Smith’s first task is to round out the rest of his coaching staff, which currently just has Pierre Groulx staying on as goalie coach. Friedman notes that Bob Boughner, who knows Smith from their time together with the Windsor Spitfires during their back-to-back Memorial Cup wins in 2009 and 2010, will be considered, but that the ex-Panthers head coach may be highly sought after. Boughner was an assistant in San Jose in 2015-16 and 2016-17, where he has a lot of fans, including Logan Couture.
  4. Friedman also corroborated the rumblings from Pierre LeBrun’s interview last week ($) that Jason Spezza may not have played his last game in an Ottawa Senators uniform.

Bruce Garrioch has turned into something like a weather vane in recent years, reflecting the thinking of Pierre Dorion and the Ottawa Senators management group to the fanbase. It’s for this reason why a couple of notes from his latest article caught my attention:

“The Senators have a lot of good young players that they hope to build around – including Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot and Colin White. Prospects Alex Formenton, Drake Batherson, Logan Brown and defenceman Erik Brannstrom are expected to push for spots in camp.”

None of this is news to Sens fans, but it’s worth pointing out Colin White is mentioned in the company of the more highly-touted Tkachuk and Chabot. White is an RFA this year — a year before Chabot by virtue of taking the college route, but while the Senators seem to be pushing to sign his birthday buddy to a long-term deal after July 1, we’re unsure on the route they’ll take with White. Do they opt for a two-year bridge deal, and see how much of his improvement this year was due to playing with Mark Stone? Or do they think his talent is legitimate, and sign him to a (cheaper) long-term deal now, potentially linking him and Chabot like the two core pieces they are? The prospects Garrioch mentions are your usual suspects, and all have played at the NHL level already.

“The roster for next season is still a long way from being settled. The Senators have held discussions with RFA Cody Ceci’s agent J.P. Barry on a long-term contract and if that doesn’t get settled then he will be dealt. The expectation is the two sides will get a contract in place at some point but you can never be certain.”

“Veterans Mark Borowiecki, Bobby Ryan, Craig Anderson, Zack Smith and Mikkel Boedker are going to be back along with forward Chris Tierney and defenceman Dylan DeMelo. The belief is the club will try to move blueliner Ben Harpur at the draft because it certainly looks like he’s going to get squeezed out.”

Let me be clear: we may all have our opinions on who the team has kept around as “veterans”, and their relative usefulness, but outside of Bobby Ryan, the next longest contract as of right now is Zack Smith’s, who makes $3.25M this year and next. While some may argue it’s best to give that roster spot to a young player, the Sens aren’t going to be ready to go anywhere until after Smith’s contract expires, so it’s not that big of a deal. However, signing Cody Ceci to a long-term contract, as hinted here, would have a tremendous ripple effect on the way the team builds for the future. I don’t mean to be alarmist, but I believe that it would impact the “success” of the rebuild, and hints at the team not really learning much from this past decade as their defensive play has been their biggest achilles heel. Ceci’s been part of the team for six seasons now. He is what he is. And even if you wanted to give him one more coach, because Paul MacLean, Dave Cameron, and Guy Boucher weren’t enough, then there’s no reason why you couldn’t sign him to a one-year deal where, at best, he suddenly gets better, or, using another definition of “best”, he helps you get another T-10 draft pick. However, as it looks like it’ll be long-term contract or a trade, I’m hopeful that he’ll be gone at the draft, along with Ben Harpur.

“The organization needs to decide whether it will offer a deal to RFA forward Anthony Duclair, who was acquired in the trade that sent Ryan Dzingel to Columbus. Forwards Magnus Paajarvi, Oscar Lindberg and Brian Gibbons are all UFAs. The belief is of that trio only Gibbons will be given the opportunity to return.”

It’s good to see the organization looking to move on from most of their UFAs, although I hope they have Gibbons slotted correctly if he’s brought back. If they’re “keeping” veterans like Smith and Boedker around, adding Gibbons and potentially Jason Spezza likely takes up one too many roster spots for my liking. It also makes me wonder if it’ll be an either/or scenario with ol’ Giggles and Gibbons. At 23-years-old, I’d much rather the team roll the dice on Anthony Duclair (or similar boom/bust young players on short-term deals) to see if there’s a long-term fit.

What do you think of what Friedman and Garrioch have presented?

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