DJ Smith is entering his fifth season as head coach of the Ottawa Senators. If that seems like a long time in the job, that's because it is: NHL coaches don't typically last more than a couple of years – especially when they miss the play-offs for the first four seasons of their tenure. In fact, Smith is the only coach in the salary cap era to remain employed without making the post-season tournament at least once in his first four years. In an industry that can be described as cut-throat, Smith has enjoyed an unusual amount of leniency.
There are, of course, mitigating factors: few teams attempt tear-downs and rebuilds as severe as the one that Pierre Dorion kicked off in 2018. There could be no reasonable expectation to finish anywhere but near the bottom of the standings in the immediate aftermath of trading all of the team's top talent. It also served the organization's purpose to do so; you can't really rebuild with high draft picks if you don't have a terrible record to get the best shot at those top spots in the draft. There was also the issue of former owner Eugene Melnyk's declining health, his eventual death, and the sale of the franchise, all of which complicated the team's operations and likely afforded Smith some degree of temporary job security through the chaos.
In the Ian Mendes article I linked above, Smith seemed keenly aware of his good fortune – but also of the pressure to perform this season. Whereas losses had been acceptable early on, especially if there were promising signs from the key prospects, that will definitely not be the case in the 2023-24 season. In response, Smith has vowed to coach the team differently:
This post is for paying subscribers only
Not everyone can afford to pay for sports coverage right now, and that is why we will keep as much of the site's content free for as long as we can.
But if you are able to, please consider subscribing to help keep our articles free (and get a few extra perks).
- Ability to comment and participate in our community
- Twice monthly newsletter available only to subscribers
- Ad-free reading
- Our undying love and appreciation
- Everything from the Erik Condra tier
- 10% discount on all merch
- Access to any future paywalled content
- A personal thank-you from the Silver Seven staff
- Everything from the Brady Tkachuk tier
- Inner peace knowing you are supporting quality, independent coverage of your favourite sports team