It really has been a Murphy’s Law type of season for the Ottawa Senators so far. With a new owner and President of Hockey Operations, Senators fans were excited for the 2023-24 season. It all went horribly south from there.
Before a puck was dropped, RFA Shane Pinto was suspended 41 games by the NHL for gambling-related reasons. Though the NHL won’t say what he did and no one seems to have a good idea, the Sens have been without their third-line centre all year. Vladimir Tarasenko started really slowly, leading to some in the Ottawa media opining that he should be traded less than 10 games into the season. Thankfully, rational heads prevailed and Tarsenko has settled in nicely. The goaltender they signed to a mammoth contract in the off-season, Jones Korpisalo, he’s rocking an .892 save percentage in 17 games. Somehow, that is better than the average goaltending Ottawa has received this year, which is at the bottom of the league with Edmonton, Carolina and New Jersey. The difference between those three teams and Ottawa however, is that Ottawa’s defensive metrics are awful. Not only are they porous defensively, they don’t have a goaltender who can mask some of their mistakes.
Fans have been hollering for a coaching change for over a month. What’s taken so long? Well, they don’t have a GM. Wait, they don’t have a GM? That’s right. Pierre Dorion was dismissed after an NHL investigation found that he and his staff mishandled the Evgenii Dadonov trade with the Vegas Golden Knights. Ottawa was stripped of a first-round pick for their error. It feels like it should be pointed out that Ottawa lost a first rounder for a trade error, while the Chicago Blackhawks did not for covering up a sexual assault. Not really sure how that happened, but you can understand how the organization feels a little hard done by here.
With the findings of the investigation public, new owner Michael Andlauer had little choice but to dismiss Pierre Dorion at the beginning of November. Firing a GM mid-season uproots a lot of processes behind the scenes and the Senators didn’t get off to the best of starts. The players wanted the noise to go away and interim management respected their wishes by keeping DJ Smith behind the bench…until after practice on Monday.
Yeah, you read that correctly.
The organization allowed DJ Smith to run practice and meet with the media on Monday. They must have fired him the moment he walked back into his office. I can’t remember the last time a coach ran practice and met with the media, only to be fired moments later. Why not do it early this morning? The reality is, the writing has been on the wall for weeks. Fans have been hollering for this and when the organization brought in Jacques Martin as a “coaching consultant” it was very clear what was happening. He’s a mole for management and it was obvious from the start. It was a bad look when it happened and it doesn’t look any better now.
Martin is know for a few things and one of them is defensive structure. The Sens struggle defensively. They have a young blue line with puck movers and not a lot of solid defenders. Thomas Chabot is injured and fits in the puck moving category. Jake Sanderson has the potential to be a top defender in the NHL, but he’s young and should benefit from the coaching change. Travis Hamonic and Jacob Bernard-Docker are getting caved in whenever they step foot on the ice and somehow, Jakob Chychrun and Jake Sanderson are holding the fort down to keep Ottawa in games. When paired together, those two have success. The problem is they have to play on different pairings in order to balance out the play of the other defenders. Once Chabot returns, a top-4 of Chabot-Chychrun, Sanderson-Zub combined with a revamped defensive structure should make the Sens more competitive.
The Sens have been a mess on the ice and somehow, an even bigger mess off of it. It seems like every other week there is a story out of Ottawa. When that happens, as it did last year in Vancouver and Arizona, it is a recipe for disaster. It may be a lost season, but similar to Vancouver, if Ottawa can focus on righting the ship defensively and quieting down the off-ice noise, they should be an exciting team to watch as soon as next year.
Rachel Doerrie is a sports media personality, businesswoman, and former NHL front office member. Doerrie began her career as a consultant for several teams before joining the New Jersey Devils and, later, joining the Vancouver Canucks as an analyst and video coach. In media, Doerrie has written for some of the top outlets in the industry such as The Athletic, EP Rinkside, and The Hockey News. She created the hit Staff & Graph podcast that has grown into the streaming and video spaces and continues to consult with professional sports teams on data analysis and communications.