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Senators fire head coach Smith, name Martin as interim replacement

The Ottawa Senators have fired head coach D.J. Smith amid yet another losing campaign in the nation’s capital.

The Senators made the announcement a day after Ottawa lost its fourth consecutive game with a 6-3 defeat to the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday.

Jacques Martin, who previously served as Senators head coach and recently joined Smith’s staff as a senior adviser, will take over on an interim basis.

Assistant coach Davis Payne was also relieved of his duties. Longtime Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson, who rejoined the Senators in a player development role in October, will serve as his replacement in an on-bench role.

The Senators have missed the playoffs for four straight seasons under Smith.

They are currently 12 points behind the Washington Capitals for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with an 11-15-0 record.

Fans at Canadian Tire Centre have shouted “Fire D.J.” on numerous occasions as the team continued to struggle. He was the sixth-longest tenured coach in the NHL and the fourth to be fired this season.

The 46-year-old Smith follows former general manager Pierre Dorion out the door after the latter parted ways with the organization on Nov. 1.

New Senators owner Michael Andlauer and president of hockey operations Steve Staios had preached a need for stability since Dorion’s departure, which appeared to signal some temporary job security for Smith.

Staios bolstered Smith’s staff by adding Martin, Alfredsson and Matt Nichol (Director of Player Health and Performance) in the last months.

Ottawa, however, lost 11 of 18 match after Dorion left the organization.

Smith, 46, went a combined 121-154-32 in the nation’s capital after getting hired in May 2019.

“It’s never good timing, but I think this was the time to make the decision to bring some hope to our players and really in search of some consistency to our game,” Staios said on a video call with reporters from Arizona. “We’re all looking for more consistency, more detail to our game, more structure.”

The Senators were in full rebuild mode when the Windsor, Ont., native took over, but expectations grew exponentially heading into the last two seasons.

Ottawa, which hasn’t made the playoffs since getting to double overtime in Game 7 of the 2017 Eastern Conference final, expected its young core built around captain Brady Tkachuk, defenceman Thomas Chabot and burgeoning star forward Tim Stutzle to be firmly in the post-season conversation this season.

The buzz around the team was also intense last season after a headline-grabbing summer that included the additions of veteran forward Claude Giroux, and since-departed sniper Alex DeBrincat and goaltender Cam Talbot.

The Senators were a fashionable pick to make noise in an Atlantic Division that’s been dominated by the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs in recent years.

Ottawa, however, is 29th in the overall standings after finishing 21st in 2022-23, 26th in 2021-22, 23rd in 2020-21 and 30th in 2019-20.

“A lot of our issues in our team play are the strengths of Jacques Martin: detailed, structured, organized, disciplined,” Staios said. “To me, in theory, he’s the perfect fit for everything that we had been lacking in those areas.”

Smith was an assistant under Mike Babcock with the Maple Leafs for four seasons before being named the 15th head coach in Senators’ history.

He was a journeyman defenceman during his playing days, suiting up for 45 NHL games with Toronto and the Colorado Avalanche.

After retiring as a player, Smith started his coaching career as an assistant with the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor Spitfires in 2005.

He was named head coach of the Oshawa Generals in 2012 and led the team to the 2015 OHL championship — they beat Connor McDavid’s Erie Otters in the final — before capturing the franchise’s fifth Memorial Cup title.

The 71-year-old 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.

He earned 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.

He has also coached the St. Louis Blues, Florida Panthers and Montreal Canadiens and was an assistant with Pittsburgh when the Penguins won Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017.

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