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Coaching search set to intensify as Sens shift to off-season


The search for the next head coach of the Ottawa Senators is set to intensify after the team’s regular season wrapped up on Thursday.

D.J. Smith, who was in his fifth year behind the bench, was relieved of his duties on Dec. 18 following a 11-15-0 start to the season. Jacques Martin, who was hired by the franchise in a consulting role on Dec. 6, shifted to interim head coach to guide the team for the remainder of the season.

President of hockey operations and general manager Steve Staios described the search as “in process and ongoing” on Friday.

“We have spoken to a couple of people. We have a longer list,” he said during his end-of-season media availability. “I think making sure we take the appropriate amount of time to be able to look at everybody that may be available is important.”

Staios said he’s not sure when they could put pen to paper on a new coach. 

“If some of these conversations move along more briskly, and we feel comfortable that they’re checking the boxes to be our next head coach of the Ottawa Senators, we would move on it,” he said. “It’s hard to tell from a timing perspective.”

The length and pace of the search indicates the Senators’ ideal candidate may still be under contract to another team. It’s possible more names will become available over the coming days and weeks in the wake of the end of the regular season and early rounds of the playoffs.

“As we’re going through the process, and if we feel like we have the perfect candidate, then we would move on it,” Staios said. “At this point in time we’re still working through our list.”

There was some thought that former Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, who was named an assistant coach in December after Martin took the interim job, might be considered for the role. Staios said Friday that Alfredsson is not in contention for the job.

“[I] had a great conversation with Alfie. I could say that he’s not going to be in consideration for the head coaching job at this point in time,” Staios said. “This is something we left a little bit open-ended. I think he does believe that if does continue on the coaching path he’ll need a little bit more time.”

Staios touched on a number of other topics during Friday’s availability.

On the team’s goaltending, which had a league-worst .888 save percentage:

“I do believe the goaltenders we have are better than their numbers. The question is, do you address that because they had off years? There’s a number of areas we need to address.”

On the status of forward Josh Norris, who had surgery on his left shoulder for a third time:

“It went well. He’s going to be ready to go come training camp for us. I think Josh is an incredibly resilient young man. All of our players go through injuries at certain times. Josh is dealing with another significant one so early in his career. I think he’s doing very well with it – probably because he’s gone through it already he knows the routine, unfortunately. I expect Josh to be 100 per cent healthy both physically and mentally.  We’ll support him on both sides of it going through this.”

On approaching his first draft as a GM in the NHL:

“We certainly value character and hockey sense. We got an incredible group of amateur scouts that have really been grinding it out. I’m looking forward to getting down to the final list. We’ll have our meetings here in a couple weeks in Ottawa. But as far as philosophy, there might be a time in the draft where you look positional, but certainly at the top of the board we’re looking at best player.”

On the players expressing frustration with how the season unfolded and missing the playoffs for a seventh straight season:

“I really do believe that we have an incredibly well-intended group of players. I do believe that they care. …a lot of our discussion was how on they continue to grow, not only as a player but as a teammate, as a leader, for all of our players. The frustration comes from the expectations.”

On how much change fans can expect over the course of the summer:

“I don’t know how to qualify it. There’s going to be changes, inevitably there always is. We’ll look at every opportunity. If we’re going to make changes they have to be with the right intentions to bring in the right people for the right positions. …We’re working towards building a culture here and that doesn’t start and stop with the players. That has to run right through the organization.”

On what his biggest disappointing was from the season:

“Probably the biggest disappointment is we saw when we played at our potential that we’re a very good team. In particular against some of the contending teams, we played some of our best games. Pinpointing exactly what it is to be consistent, I think there’s a number of areas.

Players need to go through, as hard as it is, they need to go through these scenarios and situations and years where it’s utter disappointment because it’ll only drive them to get better. They have to go through a year where there is conflict and there is turmoil. They need to learn how to deal with that.

As hard as this season was for us as managers and for our fans and for our players, it might be the most important year to building this program and team to where we need to get to. These are the hardships that ,if you use them in the right way, you learn.”