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Senators Hire Travis Green as Head Coach

May 10, 2024, 12:21 PM ET [1 Comments]
Sens Writer
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By Ken Hawkins (a.k.a. khawk)

When Michael Andlauer bought the Ottawa Senators last year, it was a foregone conclusion that a coaching change would follow at some point. What few could have predicted was the turbulent first quarter of the season that resulted in the firing of both GM Pierre Dorion and head coach DJ Smith, followed by an extended interim coaching tenure for a 71-year-old Jacques Martin. This led to a disappointing 7th place finish in the Atlantic Division, and an 8 point regression in the standings from the previous season. However, these changes also led to the mid-season hiring of GM Steve Staios, and gave the new management team a chance to thoroughly assess their current team roster and approach the 2024/25 season with a new direction.

Despite opportunities to hire a new coach throughout the season, the team adopted a more patient approach in order to more clearly diagnose the status of their young team. This patience was also reflected in their approach to making roster changes, despite early suggestions that a major shake-up may have been in the works. Dave Poulin was added to the management team as a Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations to further support the process, and Martin has no doubt provided invaluable player assessments and evaluations as part of his interim coaching term. Based on the comments made by Staios at the end of the season, it would seem that this patience gave team management the perspective they needed to make a decision. On Tuesday, we found out that the Senators hired Travis Green to be the 14th head coach in modern team history.

You can see a video of the introduction press conference here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIDFs2s7eBQ

Pros/Cons

Reactions to this decision have already proven to be quite polarizing, with many feeling that a more accomplished coach would have been preferable. The reaction among pundits has generally been more positive, in large part because people closer to the game tend to be more focused on assessing his coaching style than his record. Most accounts of Green have noted two major strengths: communication and accountability. His communication style is often noted as resonating especially well with younger players, and no doubt played a role in the job he did coaching the Portland Winterhawks to a WHL championship, and the Utica Comets to the AHL finals. The importance of this quality to the Senators context is self-evident, given that their roster is the 2nd youngest in the NHL, and they have young players in key positions throughout the lineup.

Just as important, though, is establishing a greater degree of accountability. It was quite evident last season that a relatively passive and immature culture had set in - with Martin going so far as to initially describe the team’s play as unprofessional. The on-ice effects of this manifested in a number of ways, including the habitual slow start to the season, frequent lack of game preparation, and erratic swings in team performance. The close personal connections DJ Smith had with many of the players may have helped with certain aspects of player development, but it wasn’t translating into NHL-level results. Expect this to change under Travis Green. Not in a punitive way necessarily - just being clear with players about expectations, being fair about how players are held to account, and working to improve the team’s overall game-to-game consistency.

Judging this decision also requires an acknowledgement of the objective limits of the job opportunity. First off, this is a small-market Canadian team, which means there will always be certain limitations from a roster perspective. There’s also a disproportionate amount of media attention and fan hysteria, which means working day-to-day under a pretty critical microscope. Plus, with such a young team there will be a lot of remedial work to be done, which means they’re several major steps away from a potential deep playoff run. So as much as they may have interviewed someone like Craig Berube, they would also be aware of competing opportunities where he might be sought to get a more established Cup-quality roster over the hump. Conversely, there was a very real sense that the potential limitations of the role were consistently viewed more as positives by Green.

Now, If there’s a list of cons relating to this coaching decision, it no doubt starts with the NHL win-loss track record that Green had in Vancouver, where he coached the team to a 133-147-34 record with a 0.478 winning rate. This is eerily similar to the 131-154-32 record and 0.464 winning rate that DJ Smith had managed during his time in Ottawa. The other issue is that the Senators have a far more vulnerable goaltending situation than anything he would have encountered in Vancouver. In fact, his most recent coaching experience in New Jersey would more closely relate to the Senators’ situation, and they had an absolutely terrible season in terms of crippling defensive problems. In fairness, his time in New Jersey was highly transitional, and for the most part he was limited to an assistant coaching role, but neither of his NHL tenures have resulted in significant win/loss success.

Expectations

Staois noted in his year-end press conference that he believes this is a young team with great potential, but also a team that suffered from the burden of high expectations. And while that seems like a fair assessment, the interpretation of that statement probably frames your view of this coaching decision. If you view the high expectations as appropriate, then you likely expected a coach with a more established pedigree. However, the pattern of decisions made by Staios would suggest they believe those expectations were inappropriate. Not in the sense that an NHL team shouldn’t aspire to success, but in the sense that team management had failed to adequately prepare this young team to manage those expectations and help them achieve that success.

This mindset is also reflected in the 4-year contract that Travis Green was offered, which echoes the 4 years of remaining term on the contracts of Brady Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot. There’s now a very clear window for this team to achieve a number of goals, including both postseason success, and showing enough promise to keep one or more of those foundational players on the roster long-term. That said, both Staios and Poulin are very process-oriented by reputation, and understand that establishing a culture of accountability won’t happen overnight. It will be a learning curve for many of the young players, and success will also depend on the roster changes that Staios makes over the summer in order to help support that culture. But if nothing else, it feels that Green is very much the kind of coach that Staios wants to have in place, and having that kind of trust and alignment within the management team should help the team progress towards their goal of achieving long-term success.

What do you think of the Senators hiring Travis Green as their next head coach? Please leave your thoughts and comments below, and thanks for reading!
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