OTTAWA — The Ottawa Senators are turning to their history in hopes of securing a brighter future.
The Senators announced Wednesday that former head coach Jacques Martin is joining D.J. Smith's staff as a senior adviser.
Martin, the longest tenured coach in franchise history, 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.
The Senators were a responsible team defensively under Martin, an area that has been a challenge for the current group. Ottawa currently sits tied for 26th in goals against (65), are ranked 19th with a 3.25 goals-against average and their penalty kill is 28th.
Martin has a reputation as a teacher and will be counted on to help bring structure to the Senators' defensive game.
“When I look at the team this year compared to last year to me it’s not about wins and losses,” said Martin. “To me it’s about the commitment away from the puck. I think a lot of these young players when they come into the league the focus is all on offence and they need time to realize that in order to win on a consistent basis, in order to win a championship, you need to play a two hundred foot (game).”
The Jack Adams Award winner as NHL coach of the year in 1999 with the Senators, Martin remains the team's all-time leader in games coached (692), regular-season victories, playoff victories (31) and playoff games (69).
Martin, who helped Ottawa reach Game 7 of the 2003 Eastern Conference final, has also coached the St. Louis Blues, Florida Panthers and Montreal Canadiens.
He won two Stanley Cups as an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and 2017. The veteran coach last worked as an assistant with the New York Rangers in 2021 and has most recently been working in the media.
“I felt I could help an organization and when the opportunity came up here, I think it was something that was really a great opportunity for me,” said Martin. “Hopefully I’ll be able to help this organization to get to another level.”
The Senators currently sit last in the Eastern Conference with a 10-10-0 record and on numerous occasions this season fans at Canadian Tire Centre have shouted “Fire D.J.”
Smith is in his fifth year behind the Senators bench and has never led the team to a playoff appearance. He came in at a time when the Senators were rebuilding, but expectations were high coming in this year.
With a new owner in Michael Andlauer and a promise to be “best in class,” combined with not having qualified for the post-season since 2017, fans are understandably impatient.
“I totally understand their angst," Andlauer said at the NHL Board of Governors meeting earlier this week in Seattle. "I do appreciate, and I love these fans, they are passionate. They have also gone six years without making the playoffs. The only thing I can say is that I’m as big a fan.”
Andlauer and interim general manager Steve Staios have preached patience as they conduct their search for a general manager after parting ways with Pierre Dorion last month.
They have provided support to Smith and his team with the additions of Daniel Alfredsson (player development) and Matt Nichol (Director of Player Health and Performance). Now, Martin is seen as someone who can provide a new perspective.
“Jacques is unique,” said Staios. “He’s got an incredible amount of experience, great poise and a lot of wisdom. He’s done this in the past with other teams where he comes in with this advisory role and I think it’s a great benefit to our coaching staff to have him around.”
Smith said he’s fully supportive of having Martin on board and feels his attention to detail will pay dividends for the team.
“For me and my staff we’re going to try and get every piece of knowledge that he has and introduce it to our game and to our team,” said Smith.
Martin will be with the team on a full-time basis, watching games from the press box and providing Smith and his staff with some of his observations.
“When you’re in good times it’s easy,” said Smith. “When you’re in tough times that’s when you rely on people that have experience to get out of certain situations. For me, I’ve got two or three guys in the league that I call that have success and been around a long time and now having a guy a little bit more in house (will help)."
The search for a general manager is a priority for Andlauer and Staios, but they also want to conduct their due diligence as they proceed with the process. Staios said “discussions are ongoing” and something they discuss every day.
Notes: The team expects to provide an update on the nature of Thomas Chabot’s injury soon. The defenceman suffered a leg injury Saturday and underwent an MRI Tuesday and will not play Thursday against Toronto.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2023.
Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press