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Staios sees Martin as 'perfect fit' for Senators

Jacques Martin Penguins Jacques Martin - Andy Marlin/National Hockey League/Getty Images

OTTAWA — The slumping Ottawa Senators are looking for consistency and believe Jacques Martin is the coach who can best deliver it.

The Senators announced Monday they had relieved D.J. Smith of his coaching duties and named Martin as interim head coach.

Daniel Alfredsson will also join Martin’s staff as an assistant coach to replace David Payne, who was also dismissed. Jack Capuano will remain.

In a conversation with reporters late Monday afternoon, interim general manager Steve Staios repeatedly highlighted the need for consistency as the team moves forward.

The Senators are mired in a four-game losing streak and their 11-15-0 record have them sitting last in the Eastern Conference, 12 points back of the Washington Capitals for the final wild-card berth.

The Senators lost 6-3 to the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday, despite being tied 2-2 after the first period.

Staios admitted he and owner Michael Andlauer wanted to be patient and supportive as the team dealt with injuries and off-ice issues, including the parting of ways with general manager Pierre Dorion on Nov. 1.

There had been optimism when the team won three out of five games at the start of December, but this recent stretch proved to be the tipping point.

“There was never really a specific timeline,” said Staios. “It was more on just the consistency of play and again, I was encouraged for a stretch of time there where our team was moving in the right direction. I felt like we took a step back here over the last week or so.”

Martin was hired as a senior adviser less than two weeks ago with the explanation that he would be a resource for Smith and his staff.

Bringing stability and accountability is nothing new for Martin.

The 71-year-old Martin, the longest tenured coach in Senators franchise history, was originally hired in January 1996 when the team was in desperate need of respectability and stability.

He led the Senators for parts of nine seasons from 1996 through 2004, guiding Ottawa to eight straight playoff appearances. He had a 341-255-96 regular-season record with Ottawa.

He won the Jack Adams award in 1999 as NHL coach of the year and led the Senators to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final in 2002-03.

“I think a lot of our issues in our team play are the strengths of Jacques Martin,” Staios said. “Detailed structure, organized, disciplined so to me in theory he’s the perfect fit for everything that we had been lacking in those areas.”

What can’t be overlooked is Alfredsson’s addition to the coaching staff.

While the 51-year-old had been working with the team in a player development role since October, his being part of the day-to-day inner workings will be invaluable.

“I think for me, you know, even from the beginning, the more that Daniel Alfredsson can be around our group I think better, bigger benefit it was for all of us so I had always kept that in mind,” said Staios.

“In my more recent conversations with him, I think he saw the same things as I did as far as our gameplay. He cares so much about this team and about this organization so when I approached him again about coming on full time he said, 'I’ll do whatever it takes.'”

Strangely enough, Smith ran practice and held his regular media availability on Monday morning in Tempe, Ariz., with the team preparing to take on the Coyotes Tuesday night. He was informed of his dismissal later in the day.

When asked about the strange timeline, Staios spoke of the need to get everything in order before speaking with Smith.

Smith, 46, leaves the Senators with a 121-154-32 record. He was hired in May 2019.

Originally hired when the Senators were in full rebuild mode, expectations grew exponentially for the Windsor, Ont., native the last two seasons.

Ottawa has not advanced to the post-season since 2017 when they fell short against the Pittsburgh Penguins in double overtime of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final.

With a maturing core led by captain Brady Tkachuk, defenceman Thomas Chabot and burgeoning star forward Tim Stutzle — and supported by veterans Claude Giroux and Vladimir Tarasenko — the Senators were expected to be a playoff contender this season.

Fans had little patience for the Senators inconsistent play and shouts of “Fire D.J.” were heard on numerous occasions.

Staios said Martin met briefly with the players and shared that he wants to bring a level of discipline and structure and be organized with a game plan. He’ll be looking for players to play to their strengths and work to bring out the best in each of them.

Martin will wear the interim tag, but Staios and Andlauer will continue to evaluate on how to move forward in a search for a new head coach and a general manager.

“You want to make sure that you’re making the right decisions, but you want to take the appropriate amount of time to do it,” Staios said. “I don’t want to put a timeline on when our next hire is on the management side of things.”

While the playoffs may be out of reach for this season, Staios is confident in the current group.

“I have faith in this group,” said Staios. “I have faith in the leadership of this group and the character of this group. I think with the right guidance and environment that they can get to that level. There’s plenty of optimism within our group and with the individuals that we have.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 18, 2023.