It's been a tumultuous week for the Ottawa Senators and it appears the fan base is quickly running out of patience.
Senators fans frequently booed their team and even broke out a “Fire D.J.” chant during Saturday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, calling for head coach D.J. Smith's job. Tampa Bay emerged with a 6-4 victory as Ottawa slumped to a 4-6-0 start through its opening 10 games.
— SENS TALK (@senstalk_) November 5, 2023
Ottawa was expected to finally break through in the hotly contested Atlantic Division with a young, promising core entering its prime, led by Brady Tkachuk and Tim Stutzle. The Senators signed Vladimir Tarasenko during the offseason and many believed the team’s internal growth, in addition to some stable veterans, would be enough to put the Senators in position for their first playoff berth since the 2016-17 season.
Tkachuk supported Smith following the loss to Tampa Bay and raised some eyebrows for calling out the fans.
“Whenever you don't win it's frustrating, and it's frustrating the constant booing and the bulls*** kind of from the crowd tonight was — I understand they're a passionate fan base. I love it,” Tkachuk said via Sportsnet’s Wayne Scanlan.
“But when you face adversity you don't turn your back on the guys out there. We're playing hard. I know it's frustrating but we're not giving up out there. We're fighting to the very end.”
Smith came to his captain's defense on Monday, saying Tkachuk was just frustrated in the moment.
"Brady chose Ottawa as his home for a long time … he's all Ottawa," Smith said. "I think when we have anything where there's an opportunity to sign (autographs), Brady's the last guy coming off. He signs until someone on the team pulls him off.
"So the one thing I know, is that Brady Tkachuk loves Ottawa and he loves the fans."
Smith has been at the helm since the 2019-20 season, which has been fruitless thus far. And with heightened expectations, along with Tkachuk, Stutzle, Jakob Chychrun and Thomas Chabot (expected to return in December after fracturing his hand), it’s reasonable for Senators fans to demand more out of their coach.
"I don't know how they take all the heat for that,” Stutzle said of the coaching staff after Saturday's game, via Scanlan. “Right now we're just not getting the bounces. They're trying their best and for me they have been unbelievable so I have their backs as much as I can."
We’re in the first week of November but it’s not too early for fans to grow angsty, especially after nearly a decade of rebuilding efforts.
Worst points percentages among active NHL head coaches (out of the 23 with at least 150 games of experience)
.394- Andre Tourigny
.415- Rick Bowness
.463- David Quinn
.465- DJ Smith (Via tonight's 6-4 @Senators loss vs TBL)
.488- Don Granato
.491- Rick Tocchet
.530- Paul Maurice
— StatsCentre (@StatsCentre) November 5, 2023
Smith isn’t in good company historically. He has posted a cumulative 124-145-32 record during his tenure with the Senators and patience is wearing thin. Smith was tremendously successful at the major junior level, leading the Oshawa Generals to a Memorial Cup victory during the 2014-15 season. He had built a reputation of being able to develop and cultivate young talent, then helped with the Toronto Maple Leafs’ offense while operating as an assistant during Mike Babcock’s reign as head coach.
It hasn’t paid off thus far for Smith and if large factions of the Senators’ fan base get their way, he could potentially be the first coach fired during the 2023-24 season.