Ottawa Senators 2022-23 Report Cards: Coaching, Management, Ballots Revealed
The staff hand out their grades for DJ Smith and Pierre Dorion, plus we reveal our ballots!
At last, we've arrived at the end of our Reports Cards feature. You can read our grades for the defense and goalies, as well as the forwards. Today, we tackle the coaching and management:
DJ Smith: B-, Readers: B-
There is very little that sports fans can all agree upon, but one thing most have in common is a strong conviction that the coach of their favourite team sucks. "If only Coach deployed my favourite player in my preferred strategic alignment, then the team would have won the big game!" is a sentiment familiar to the ears of anyone who consumes sports media with any regularity. The truth of the matter is that professional coaches are both far more capable than virtually anyone griping about them, but they are also not infallible. You can only coach the roster that's put in front of you, but pro hockey is a results-based business: if you don't deliver, you will be replaced.
In his first two seasons as coach of the Ottawa Senators, DJ Smith was not expected to win much of anything at all. In fact, if the Sens could find a way to lose as many games as possible while developing their young players and maintaining a halfway decent culture, then the job could be considered a success. This season, however, the mandate was to win...or at least win enough to play "meaningful" games in March. While the Sens didn't quite make it all the way back into the play-off race after a disastrous start to the year, their play-offs odds were never above 25% by most models, the games certainly had a lot more import than in years past. Smith's grade, a B- from both the staff and the readers, reflects this: the 2022-23's record Sens did not exceed expectations, but it was measurable forward progress.
A B- is a "good job" type of evaluation. That seems fair to me, given that DJ had by far his best roster, but not one that was guaranteed to cakewalk into the post-season. If the change in ownership means the end of Smith's time behind the bench then he will be going out on a high note, and will likely have earned at least one more shot at a head coaching gig. On the other hand, if he's brought back for another season then it would be fair to say that he will be expected to deliver play-off games in the nation's capital. Nothing else will matter.
Pierre Dorion: B-, Readers: B
Similarly to Smith, evaluating Dorion's performance since the start of the rebuild has been tricky at times: the team wasn't trying to win, and much of the process of team-building involved trading beloved franchise icons for young players and future picks. For five seasons, it was perfectly fair for Dorion to ask that he not be evaluated by the team's win-loss record. This year was a bit different, and the team's improvement is in large part owing to Dorion's roster-building acumen. He's made several big, splashy moves in the last twelve months, and it would be hard to argue with too many of them: the Alex DeBrincat trade, the Claude Giroux signing, the Jakob Chychrun trade were all praised at the time of their completion and all still look very good today.
That's not to say there haven't been missteps: the Talbot trade was a dubious proposition even at the time it was made, and the team's forward depth was a glaring weakness before the season started. If the team was not good enough in net, or deep enough up front, then Dorion deserves at least some of the blame in those areas as well as the credit for the things that went well. Like Smith, Dorion gets a B- from the staff, which, again, seems fair to me: the team is very much improved, and the big picture looks mostly pretty good, but this was a team that still missed the play-offs despite now being quite close to the cap.
If the Sens take a big step forward next year and are a top four squad in the East, then it will be easy to look back on this season and say it was merely a stepping stone. Dorion will be vindicated. However, if this is the group's ceiling, if they are no better than a fringe play-off squad, then Dorion's rebuild would have to be considered a failure: you don't tear everything down the studs for a fringe play-off squad.
All of this to say that, like Smith, next season is when the chips will all be on the table. Also like Smith, there's an open question as to whether Dorion will even be around to see how his legacy plays out.
While the readers and the staff were mostly aligned through the process, there were a few points of disagreement. In the interest of letting you know which staff writer you can pick a fight with in the comments, err transparency, here are our completed ballots: