D.J. Smith signed a two-year extension with a third-year team option which could keep him behind the Senators’ bench through the 2024-25 campaign.
The Windsor, ON area resident is slated to earn $1.25 million per season per The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun.
Smith guided the club to a sixth-place finish in the North Divison last season. The team opened 2021 with victories in only two of their first 15 games, but closed the season with 21-16-4 record over their final 41 games.
The Senators improved to 23rd overall in league standings from finishing 30th, second-last the previous year.
General Manager Pierre Dorion commented it was “the biggest and best news of the day.”
“D.J. has shown in his two years with us, he can deliver. His mandate was to develop the younger players at a pace where the organization can have success. He has done this. He’s a fantastic communicator. We play hard and we play with energy. He’s created a great culture, a culture that will allow us to win in future. His work ethic is second to none. He’s one of the first ones here every morning. He’s got great attention to detail. And he’s very deserving of this extension,” the Senators GM said during his Zoom availability Wednesday.
The pressure is now off for Smith, who can now enter next season knowing he has security.
Smith via Zoom, “I’d like to thank Mr. Melnyk and the Ottawa Senators organization for not only hiring me two years ago, but giving me the opportunity to continue this path with him and Pierre Dorion – with our young guys continuing to get better, and allowing me the opportunity to see this through. I think we’ve had a lot of tough days. We’re certainly in a way better spot than we were a couple of years ago, where we are starting to see a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel. And for them trusting me to continue guide this group, I can’t be happier for myself and my family to be allowed this opportunity.”
The 44-year old thinks his team is primed for success for a myriad of reasons,“I think it’s stability at the coaching position. I also think we’re growing together. I’ve made lots of mistakes as a head coach. Players make mistakes all the time. And I think we’re growing together as a group. I think it’s really exciting to be a part of it. Nobody’s perfect, but I can tell you, myself and my family couldn’t be happier to have an opportunity to try and win with this group, We know how hard it is to win in this league. I think the kids are better. The additions today are going to make us better. There’s some more stuff I know that Pierre is working on as well. that’s going to continue to make us better.”
The D.J. Smith announcement was actually the second of the day for the club.
The first was somewhat of a surprise. The surprise wasn’t that the Senators acquired a left-shot defenseman, but they were able to include RW Evgenii Dadonov in the deal.
The team dealt Dadonov to the Vegas Golden Knights for Nick Holden and Vancouver’s 2022 third-round pick.
Signed to a three-year, $15M contract last off-season, Dadonov posted 13 goals, seven assists in 55 games, but only garnered one lone assist on the power play – simply not good enough for a player brought in from Florida play the bumper position on the Senators’ first PP unit.
“When I talked him today, he was a total pro. He understands it’s a business. He apologized for under-delivering. He said our organization was first class from top to bottom. And he totally understood it,” explained Dorion. “It didn’t work out as far as expectations, but at the same time it’s tough when you come to a different country, the first time you play for a team. At the same time, you don’t have your wife, two kids. Your wife is pregnant. He had to isolate for 14 days before coming here and when he came here. It didn’t work out.”
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Heading into the final year of his $1.7M contract, the Senators receive a dependable defender in Holden, who also has good hands. A veteran of 568 games, Holden was often scratched last season, limited to 17 regular season games. However, the 34-year old skated in 15 playoff games for the Golden Knights, earning two goals and five assists. Undrafted, the Senators will be the St. Albert, AB-born blue-liner’s sixth team.
Holden posted his best season in 2016-17, recording 34 points, (11 goals, 23 assists) for the New York Rangers.
“I think he’s a tremendous puck-mover. He’s a great guy, provides great leadership. He’s a defensive-defenseman with great range, a great stick. He outlets the puck. Played a lot of playoff hockey the last few years. I think bringing in his experience and how he plays the game, fits in well,” added Dorion of Holden.
The team also went free agent shopping, signing 12-year NHL veteran defenseman Michael Del Zotto from the Columbus Blue Jackets. The 2008 Rangers’ first-round selection receives a two-year contract with a $2 million cap hit per season.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity in Ottawa. When you look at their team they had a bit of a slow start last year, but you look at their second half of their season, they had a great result. The team is trending in the right direction. I love the way they play under D.J. Smith. I’m excited to bring a veteran presence and help out this season,” said the 31-year old in an interview on TSN after his signing.
The Senators’ GM explains adding Del Zotto who posted 13 points (four goals, nine assists in 53 games last season) “D.J., Pierre McGuire, myself had call with Michael shortly after 12. We told him the role he’d be playing here. He’s someone who is mobile. He has a great experience. He’s a great pro. Every time we did a background check on him on the last few weeks, we found he’s someone that would fit in with this group – how he would mentor younger players. He’s seen it all. He’s been a first-round pick. He’s had to sign a two-way contract. He’s a good puck-mover. I think he’s really going to fit in well with our team.”
The additions of Holden and Del Zotto make the blue line more crowded, especially on the left side. Dorion noted that the pair can play either side, but one has to wonder if Erik Brannstrom or restricted free agent Victor Mete are now trade bait?
On his club’s now-crowded blue line, Dorion noted, “People say eight, I can say nine or ten with (Jacob) Bernard-Docker and Lassi Thomson. I think you can never have too many defensemen. I think a lot of these guys can play right side, left side. We know defensemen go down fast. If this is the group we come to camp with, I think we’re ahead of where we were last year. I think this group has versatility. We have puck-movers. We have defenders. We’ve got guys who can play the penalty kill. We’ve got guys that can play the power play. We’ve got guys if we’ve got a one-goal lead or a one-goal deficit.”
One other player added Wednesday was Andrew Agozzino. A three-time American League all-star, Agozzino will provide leadership for the young forward core in Belleville. The LW notched 13 goals, 14 assists in 31 games with Ducks affiliate in San Diego last season. The 30-year old added one assist with Anaheim in three games in 2021 and is a veteran of 552 AHL games.
Dorion told Full Press NHL, “Agozzino is someone who can play in Belleville or in Ottawa. He’s a top-end minor league who we feel can play games for us. He’s got a lot of skill. Obviously, he’s a player we feel who adds a lot of depth to our organization.”
The Senators are expected to announce more signings for Belleville Thursday, and possibly another addition via free agency or trade.
Centres Adam Henrique, Nazem Kadri, and Ryan Strome have all been in the Senators rumour mill of late.