Smith: 'I’m disappointed that we couldn’t turn the corner with this group'
D.J. Smith says he takes pride in the work he did as head coach of the Ottawa Senators, but rues the fact that he couldn't help produce a winner.
The 46-year-old Smith spoke to Postmedia's Bruce Garrioch a day after he was dismissed during his fifth season on the bench and a record of 121-154-32.
“Absolutely, I’m proud of the amount of work that we put in, the amount of people we met and I’m proud of a lot of the players that we brought from young kids to what we think are really good NHL players,” Smith told Garrioch. “That job was to come in and do that. I think I leave with a lot of guys that are much better NHL players than when they came in. One of the most unfortunate part of this job is the injuries and you can’t control those. We had insurmountable amount of injuries over my time here. Whether it was goaltending, star players or centres. It’s not an excuse, but you need the tools to win in this league. The timing of these injuries were crushing."
Smith, whose tenure was his first as an NHL head coach after having spent time on the bench of the Toronto Maple Leafs, admits his firing did not come as any kind of surprise with the team currently last in the Atlantic Division at 11-15-0, but believes he did what was asked of him as a head coach.
“I’m disappointed that we couldn’t turn the corner with this group for whatever reason,” Smith said. “Whether it was injuries or whatever the case may be. When we got it back to .500, you had to see that we needed to make a step and not continue to drop lower. I’m disappointed in that, but not disappointed in the whole body of work. I think I did my job in developing these young guys and turning them into real NHL players by giving them the confidence every day.”
The Windsor, Ont. native believes that his successors, interim head coach Jacques Martin and club icon Daniel Alfredsson as an assistant, will have the Senators in good hands.
"I don’t only want them to be successful for themselves, but also for the city to experience a winner again," Smith said. "It’s really close and unfortunately my time came up but this team is going to be really good. They have good leadership, players that care and like each other, and for a lot of reasons we didn’t find a way to win early in the season. That doesn’t mean this team can’t get it going. There’s too much in that room. I have no doubt that if I had stayed right to the end, we’d be right close to the playoffs.”
The Senators return to action without Smith for the first time on Tuesday night with a visit to the Arizona Coyotes.