With the skaters and goalies wrapped up, we now move on to the brains behind the operation. Despite their low placement in the standings, the team had faced several challenges, not limited to frequent key injuries and a COVID-19 outbreak. How did the staff and readers choose to evaluate the head coach and general manager of the Ottawa Senators? Let’s find out.
D.J. Smith: B-
Reader Grade: B-
The staff and readers were in agreement about Smith’s performance this year — not bad, but not good enough to make up for existing issues on the roster.
When looking at the team’s lackluster play, it’s difficult to judge how much of it is on Smith, as opposed to the quality of personnel, but there are a few conclusions we can derive from available data. For instance, their power-play ranked 13th in the league in expected goals per 60 according to NaturalStatTrick, even though their PP% ranked 20th. The weakness here is an inability to finish on chances — which checks out when you consider that throughout the entire season, the team lacked the personnel to field two quality power-play units. My guess is that with another strong shot, the system currently in place could become fairly lethal.
Another way to evaluate Smith is through his decision-making regarding his lineup, as well as player deployment. After giving Nikita Zaitsev over 22 minutes per game last year, he reduced it to around 19 minutes, while keeping Josh Brown’s around 14 a night. Even though a better option would’ve been playing better players and not relying so much on Thomas Chabot, keeping Lassi Thomson and Jacob Bernard-Docker in the AHL was a priority, so Smith was more or less forced to do what he could with the group he had.
In terms of his work as a development coach, he gave Tim Stützle a sheltered offensive role as the 2C, allowing him to get used to the position, at which he’s now thriving as a legitimate top-six forward. He also trusted Erik Brännström with a larger workload after Chabot’s late-season injury — he was consistently topping 20 minutes a game down the stretch, sometimes as high as 23.
Overall, there seems to be some cautious optimism going into next season regarding Smith’s ability to be a successful coach in the NHL. Some may see 2022-23 as his last chance, but in reality, it might actually be his first real shot to coach a playoff game.
Pierre Dorion: C-
Reader Grade: C+
We’ll start off with his biggest accomplishment of the season — Dorion was able to successfully negotiate a seven-year contract with Brady Tkachuk, who would become the team’s captain later on. Perhaps the signing didn’t happen as soon as we liked, considering he missed the team’s first three games, but they did meet the crucial goal of locking him up before the puck dropped on opening night. Unfortunately for Dorion, some other moves (or a lack thereof) contributed to another losing season for the Sens. While he did take some steps to improve the team’s defense, particularly with the acquisition of Nick Holden (while somehow convincing the Vegas Golden Knights to take Evgenii Dadonov’s contract in the process), the right side, two-thirds of which consisted of Zaitsev and Brown, was left unattended. The lack of a top-six forward was also a massive blunder, as, beyond the team’s weak play-driving numbers, a lack of finishing was also an issue.
With regards to the deadline, Dorion gets a passing grade. Dealing a bottom-six forward in Nick Paul and getting, at the bare minimum, a similar player with RFA rights in Mathieu Joseph along with a draft pick was a solid move, though the desperation in his acquisition of Travis Hamonic is still a head-scratcher.
Despite a couple of decent moves, the lack of meaningful acquisitions to the forward corps and the right side of the defense all but guaranteed the team would have a tough time winning games this year.