Another long break between games has given us all plenty of time for thinking. Perhaps too much.
Is it time for a coaching change?
I’ve been one of DJ Smith’s biggest defenders over the last few years, and so it says a lot about the current state of the Ottawa Senators that even I am coming around to the view that it’s probably time to move on.
I have a lot of respect for DJ Smith. He’s helped develop a lot of good young players for Ottawa. He’s far better than most NHL coaches at giving young players opportunities, and his decisions usually make sense, even if they aren’t always what I would have done in his place. It’s easy to see why the players like him so much, and I want so badly for him to pull it together, but it’s clearly not working.
It’s not just that the team is losing. It’s how they’re losing. Year after year, this team struggles to put up any kind of fight when they fall behind in a game. Their defensive structure hasn’t gotten better, despite personnel improvements. Their play prioritizes physicality over skill. They look virtually unbeatable in meaningless games, and completely lifeless as soon as the pressure turns on. DJ Smith seems like a smart coach, and I really did hope he’d adjust his strategy as the makeup of the team changed, but he hasn’t.
But what do the Sens need in a coach?
This is the part that always trips me up when we talk about coaching. Most coaches are bad. Every NHL fanbase hates their coach to some degree. I don’t think DJ Smith is the solution moving forward, but I am terrified of what the next coach would be like.
When hiring coaches, NHL teams often tend to swing from one extreme to another. If a players’ coach that everyone likes doesn’t work out, then it’s time for a hardass, systems coach who’s going to yell at the players until they play well. If the response to DJ Smith’s failures is to hire a Mike Babcock or Darryl Sutter type, then I’d truly rather they stick with DJ.
I don’t think the problem with the Sens is a lack of effort. With players like Tkachuk, Giroux and Stützle, I don’t think they need a coach to bench them over mistakes in order to play well. What they do need is someone who can teach them to play defense and implement a system that allows them to actually use their skills. This team has the talent to be a great possession team.
So yes, the Sens may need someone who coaches differently from DJ Smith, but that doesn’t mean that everything Smith does is bad. The Sens don’t need a mean coach just because DJ Smith is nice.
Corey Perry and the Blackhawks
There’s so much to unpack about everything that’s gone on with the Chicago Blackhawks and Corey Perry that it could be a whole article on its own, but I feel the need to at least briefly touch on what happened this past week.
Earlier this week, Corey Perry mysteriously disappeared from the Blackhawks, and the team essentially refused to provide details beyond clarifying that he was no longer with the team and that it was their decision to have him step away. This led to wild speculation that culminated in a completely fabricated rumour that Perry’s offense was an affair with a teammate’s mother. The story continued to spread on social media, despite the fact that most people knew it was fake. The team eventually held a press conference where they announced that they would be terminating Perry’s contract, and clarifying that the incident had nothing to do with players or their families.
I do think it’s relevant to keep in mind the context here, specifically regarding the Blackhawks. The team has a history of mishandling abuse allegations, and specifically of not holding people accountable. It’ll be a long time before anyone gives them the benefit of the doubt about how they handle an off-ice situation. I think that, to many, posting baseless rumours about what Corey Perry might have done to be kicked off the team was a way of making sure the story didn’t get forgotten or swept under the rug, and forcing the team to be transparent about what actually did happen.
However, what seems to be getting lost in all these is that there is another person involved, both in the rumour made up on social media and (most likely) in whatever actually happened. A random woman with no connection to what Corey Perry did had sexual jokes made about her for days - jokes that are probably going to follow her around for a long time. Two days ago, I heard someone make a joke comparing a random woman to the person involved in the Corey Perry rumour, as some kind of shorthand way of calling that woman a slut. I know that some of the people making jokes about the Perry situation meant well, but I think a lot of hockey fans need to be aware of what types of people are going to take those jokes as a license to be misogynistic.
Beyond that, whatever Corey Perry did might very well involve another person, and airing out the details about what happened doesn’t help anyone. Perry has been punished. That’s what matters. The team found out about some kind of misconduct, and acted quickly to terminate Perry’s contract while respecting the privacy of whoever else was involved. Transparency is important, but I don’t think it requires the public knowing the exact details of every case of misconduct by a player.
The PWHL season approaches
The last few months have seen a whirlwind of activity in women’s hockey, as the lightning-fast turnaround has meant little time between rosters forming and the teams actually hitting the ice. And yet, it still feels like opening night can’t come soon enough.
This week, each team announced their full schedule, and the first round of cuts started in training camps. If you’re not reading The Ice Garden, you should start now; we plan on covering PWHL Ottawa here at Silver Seven, but the folks at The Ice Garden are the real women’s hockey experts, and have far more access to the league than we do. Their recent article predicting the roster based on training camp performances is a great read. I’m especially looking forward to Mikyla Grant-Mentis and Akane Shiga being offered contracts. That proposed second line with Daryl Watts at centre sounds ridiculously fun.
All this to say that I can’t wait for opening night on January 2nd. I’m also looking forward to Ottawa proving everyone wrong by having good attendance numbers in their inaugural season. Far too many people have been doubting Ottawa’s ability to sell out TD Place, despite the obvious differences between this team’s situation and that of the Sens, not least of which is the arena’s location. This team is going to do well, and it’s going to be very satisfying when that happens.
Sign up for the PWHL’s mailing list, get your tickets when they go on sale, and watch this space for some season previews once the roster gets finalized.
Please let the Tkachuk brothers fight each other
Some of you may not have realized this, but Monday’s confrontation between the Tkachuk brothers and the ensuing penalties to everyone on the ice went slightly viral this week. Multiple people have asked me about it, including several people who don’t even follow hockey.
My favourite part of the whole saga? Brady and Matthew negotiating which teammates they’re going to fight in place of each other. Matthew asks Brady to choose between Stützle and Sanderson, and Brady offers to fight Barkov. As funny as that moment was, it’s also getting ridiculous. They want to fight each other so badly. Please, Chantal Tkachuk, if you’re reading this, let them fight.
I think it would grow the game.