The Ottawa Senators’ Coaching Search: A look at the candidates
As they zero in on the right candidate, we take a look at those who have been interviewed for the job, and perhaps those who haven’t.
Ever since Guy Boucher was unceremoniously fired by the Ottawa Senators on March 1st, the pressing question in the capital has been of who will take his place.
It was quiet, at first. The team kept their cards close to the chest, and didn’t give any indication as to where they were leaning. The hunt began to heat up, however, near the end of April, and now the list of candidates interviewed by the team has expanded to seven.
The gentlemen in question come from various backgrounds, with different levels of coaching pedigree to their names, so let’s dive right in, and take a look at the seven men who have been interviewed (so far) to be the next coach of the Ottawa Senators.
An assistant with the Senators since 2016, Crawford needs no introduction. He was brought in with Boucher to coach the blueliners, and was part of the team’s thrilling run to the 2017 Eastern Conference Final. He took over as interim head coach following Boucher’s firing, and finished the season with a 7-10-1 record.
Aside from his tenure with the Senators, Coach Cro consistently held down an NHL job from 1994-2011. As the bench boss of the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche, Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings, and Dallas Stars, Crawford posted a 549-421-103-78 record in 1151 games as a head coach, winning the Stanley Cup with Colorado in 1996.
Following his dismissal from Dallas, he found success overseas with Zurich SC of the Swiss-A league. Two finals appearances, one championship, and an overall 0.695W% over four seasons were good enough for him to find his way back to the NHL with Ottawa.
All in all, Crawford boasts eight playoff appearances in 15 NHL seasons, not counting his 18 games with Ottawa.
Thoughts: While Crawford likely isn’t the worst hire for the Senators, I’d like to see them move on from Crawford. The team definitely looked more loose when he took over, but it’s probably time for the Senators to get a fresh face and voice in the room. If this is truly a rebuild, that includes the coaching staff.
Troy Mann was tapped to take over as head coach of the Belleville Senators on June 25th, 2018. Taking over Kurt Kleinendorst after a 29-42-5 season, Mann was able to engineer a late-season playoff push, that saw Belleville just barely miss their first postseason berth since 2014, when the team was still in Binghamton.
When the dust settled, Belleville finished with a 37-31-8 record, good enough for 82 points and 10th place in the Eastern Conference.
Before joining the organization, Mann was the head coach of the Hershey Bears, AHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals. He posted a 162-102-40 record over four seasons, making the playoffs three times, and the Calder Cup Final in 2016.
The brother of Senators’ chief amateur scout Trent Mann, Troy Mann was publicly praised by then-Capitals head coach Barry Trotz, following their Stanley Cup win last summer. Trotz praised Mann as being a critical component in the development of the team’s young players. Mann coached the likes of John Carlson, Braden Holtby, Jakub Vrana, Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos, Andre Burakovsky, Jay Beagle, and Tom Wilson in Hershey.
This would be his first NHL job.
Thoughts: There’s no denying that Troy Mann is an excellent head coach, his record speaks for itself. While he might be a good fit for a young Ottawa team, I personally think they’re better off with him in Belleville. Mann has been credited for his ability to develop young players, and with the number of key prospects that will likely be suiting up for the Baby Sens this year, there are few people more trustworthy to oversee their development than Mann.
The next candidate may seem somewhat familiar.
The 66 year-old Martin, who was an assistant on Crawford’s Cup-winning staff in 1996, is the most decorated candidate that you will find on this list. The Rockland, Ontario native has three Stanley Cups to his name, notching two as a Pittsburgh assistant in 2016 and 2017. As a head coach, Martin has stood behind the bench for 1294 NHL games, with a record of 613-481-119-81, and 12 playoff appearances.
Are we forgetting something?
Oh yeah. Hired as a replacement for interim coach Dave Allison in 1995, Jacques Martin was the head coach of the Ottawa Senators for nine seasons. Guiding the team to their first playoff berth, their first (and only) President’s Trophy, and their first Eastern Conference Final, Martin is the longest-serving, and winningest coach in franchise history.
Though he vaulted the team to new heights, and earned himself the Jack Adams award in 1998-1999, Martin never could quite get the team over the hump. He was fired in 2004, after the third first-round loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs in four years. The Senators missed the playoffs only once during his tenure
Following stints with the Florida Panthers and Montréal Canadiens, Martin accepted an assistant job in Pittsburgh, where has resided since.
Thoughts: This one is sure to bring some mixed emotions. Martin is unquestionably the greatest coach in franchise history, but the Senators struggled to reach their full potential under his watch. A seven game defeat (on home ice) in the 2003 Eastern Conference Final was the closest they got to the Stanley Cup, and the only time they made it past the second round under Martin. With the game having changed so much since then, one has to think it may be time to turn to a younger, fresher coach. That said, Martin’s resume is the most impressive on this list, and his wealth of experience could end up being beneficial for the young Sens.
I touched on what a D.J. Smith hiring could look in my Five Thoughts for Friday from a couple weeks ago, but we’ll go over it again. Smith spent six season as an assistant coach of the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires, before accepting a head coaching spot with the Oshawa Generals in 2012.
In three years under Smith, the Generals went 135-53-16. They made the playoffs three times, and won the Memorial Cup in 2015 following a dominant regular season.
After the championship campaign, Smith joined Mike Babcock’s staff in Toronto, where he has since sat in charge of the defence corps. The Leafs have been eliminated from the playoffs in the first round of each the past three seasons.
The 42 year-old Smith is the youngest candidate interviewed by Ottawa.
Thoughts: Though young, and relatively inexperienced, Smith’s had an impressive career. His stint in Oshawa was one in which the Generals were consistently a contender. Spending three years on Mike Babcock’s bench also makes for more experience than most can say. Smith has also been in charge of a defensive unit containing Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner, so he’s no stranger to young talent like Thomas Chabot, Erik Brannstrom, Max Lajoie, and Christian Wolanin. On the flip side, it’s unclear how much of Toronto’s defensive woes can be attributed to Smith, and he doesn’t have the experience of other candidates. I don’t think Smith is the guy Ottawa’s looking for.
Continuing the time-warp trend, there’s another former Senators coach that has been interviewed.
Rick Bowness was the Ottawa Senators’ head coach from their inaugural season in 1992-1993, until he was fired midway through the 1995 season. Doing his best with an expansion squad that wouldn’t exactly rival the Vegas Golden Knights, Bowness coached the team to a 39-178-18-0 record. The franchise turnaroud began after Jacques Martin took over the next season.
Bowness has also spent time as head coach of the original Winnipeg Jets, the Boston Bruins, New York Islanders, and Phoenix Coyotes, but he’s consistently been an assistant since 1999. With Phoenix, the Vancouver Canucks, Tampa Bay Lightning, and currently the Dallas Stars, Bowness has reinvigorated his career as one of the league’s premier assistants.
As a head coach, Bowness has only been to the playoffs one time, reaching the third round. He has reached the Stanley Cup Final on two occasions, with Vancouver and Tampa, respectively.
Thoughts: If I had the ability to instantly strike one candidate from consideration, it would be Rick Bowness. Expansion team aside, he hasn’t been a head coach on more than an interim basis since 1998, a season in which he was fired after 63 games. Bowness would likely be a valuable addition as an assistant coach, but would end up being a bad hire for the Sens as a head coach. He’s been fired, or not re-signed on four separate occasions, his time as a head coach in the NHL is likely over.
Going off the traditional radar, the Ottawa Senators have also turned their attention to college hockey in search of their next head coach.
Nate Leaman has been one of the most outstanding bench bosses in college hockey for the last 16 years. He spent eight years in the ECAC Hockey conference with the Union Dutchmen, going as far as the NCAA East Regional Semifinal, before moving on to the Providence Friars for the 2011-2012 season.
Leaman began to hit his stride in Massachusetts. His career winning percentage at Providence is a solid .627, and he guided the Friars to their first and only National Championship in 2015.
Through 16 seasons as an NCAA head coach, Leaman has a record of 292-212-67. Before the Buffalo Sabre hired Ralph Krueger, Leaman was connected to the position.
Thoughts: This one isn’t a bad idea. Leaman has been a winner everywhere he’s coached, and engineered great organizational turnarounds with both Union and Providence. In a situation like Ottawa, where the expectations are low, and he has former collegiate players like Brady Tkachuk, Colin White, and Max Veronneau to coach, Leaman might be a great fit. On the flip side, he would be a first-time NHL coach, and the college game is vastly different from the pro’s. This could be a situation where it’s low risk, high reward.
Everyone who knows even a little bit about hockey, knows the name Patrick Roy. One of, if not the greatest goaltender of all time, Roy’s brash personality and outstanding play earned him a legacy that will never be forgotten. That, and being the second-highest winning goaltender of all time, with four Stanley Cups to his name.
As a coach, Saint Patrick found success within the junior ranks, as the boss behind the bench of the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts. In his first year with the team, they lost in the QMJHL Finals, but won the Memorial Cup nonetheless. Roy would go on to spend another seven seasons in the Quebec league, achieving an overall record of 349-159-37, only failing to make it past the first round once.
Roy would take over as head coach of his old team, the Colorado Avalanche, for the 2013-2014 season, as well as being named Vice-President of Hockey Operations. He was considered to have the final say on all on-ice matters. In his first campaign, Roy orchestrated a shocking organizational 180, taking the team that had finished last in the conference the year before, to second place with a 52-win season. Despite the stellar season, and Roy taking home the Jack Adams award, the Avs would be eliminated in the first-round by the Minnesota Wild.
Despite the first-round loss, Colorado looked primed for future success. That wasn’t the case, however, as they would go on to miss the playoffs the next two seasons. Following a 39-39-4 season in 2016, Roy would step down from his positions, citing a lack of organizational input.
He would return to the Remparts this past season, coaching them to a 27-28-13 finish.
Thoughts: Yeah, this one is going to be a hard pass for me. Despite the remarkable first year in Colorado, the way the wheels fell off is horrifying. Roy couldn’t get a team that contained Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, Tyson Barrie, Jarome Iginla, and god-mode Semyon Varlamov to the playoffs. Roy’s apparent need for total control is also something that could damage the team in the years to come, and his lack of patience is exactly the wrong mentality for a young team that’s going to struggle for, at least, the next two years. If they hire him, I hope I’m wrong, and that we get to see some of that magic from 2014, but this hire makes me incredibly nervous.
No one is questioning the credentials of any of these men. They’re all coaches who have managed to have sustained success at multiple levels, in multiple different positions. However, it seems apparent that some candidates are better than others.
Marc Crawford is the last remnant of the Guy Boucher disaster, Troy Mann serves the organization better in Belleville, D.J. Smith is an unproven wild card, Rick Bowness would be going backwards, and Patrick Roy is the wrong fit for a young club.
Jacques Martin is the most decorated candidate on the list, and already has ties to the organization. Despite his inability to break the team’s glass ceiling, he presents an interesting opportunity for redemption. It’s worth consideration that an experienced Martin, who developed many of Ottawa’s star players during the late-90s and early-2000s, is exactly the right man to lead a young Ottawa team. Though questions should be raised on whether or not the game has passed him by.
Nate Leaman is young, and unproven at the pro level, but his college record is among the best in the business. If the success of other college coaches like Jim Montgomery is any indication, than perhaps Leaman is the best hire for the Senators. Young and unproven, much like the players (many of whom are from the college hockey circuit) that he would be coaching.
Personally, if I had to pick a candidate off this list, I would be satisfied with either of these two. One is esteemed and proven, while the other has serious potential, with an ability to relate to his youthful team.
I would like the Senators to hire Brad Shaw, though. Current assistant of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and formerly the St. Louis Blues, Shaw has been one of the league’s premier assistants for over 13 years. His teams have been among the best overall defensive units, and owned some of the best overall special teams in the NHL. Structure, experience, development. The exact qualities the Senators should be looking for in a head coach.
So what do our faithful readers think? Who would you like to see as head coach. Make sure to vote, and comment down below.
Who should be the next head coach of the Ottawa Senators?
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