Senators hire Maple Leafs assistant D.J. Smith as new coach

The Senators are going young with their next coach, hiring D.J. Smith off the Maple Leafs’ staff as the man they hope will get them back to the playoffs. 

Smith, 42, has been an assistant under Mike Babcock in Toronto the last four seasons after a successful run as a head coach in the Ontario Hockey League. The Senators announced Thursday they have signed him to a three-year deal. 

“D.J. Smith is a winner. We believe he is the best person to drive the development and success of the Ottawa Senators,” general manager Pierre Dorion said in a release. “D.J. is a great communicator and an exceptional strategist. His passionate approach, coupled with his ability to teach the game, is exactly what we were looking for throughout the process. We’re thrilled to welcome D.J. and his family to Ottawa.”

Smith spent most of his playing career in the minors but did appear in 45 games for the Maple Leafs and Avalanche between 1996 and 2003. He moved straight into the coaching ranks with his hometown OHL team, the Windsor Spitfires, serving as an assistant there for six years before taking over the top job with the Oshawa Generals. 

He went 135-53-3-13 in three seasons with Oshawa, earning OHL Coach of the Year honors in 2014 and leading the Generals to the Memorial Cup title in 2015 before moving on to the Maple Leafs staff. 

He’ll be charged with turning around a Senators team that has missed the playoffs the last two seasons after a memorable run to the Eastern Conference finals in Guy Boucher’s first year as coach. Ottawa fired Boucher on March 1 and Marc Crawford led the team the rest of the season.  

Crawford and Patrick Roy were among several candidates reportedly interviewed for the position.