Prior to taking the head coaching job in Ottawa this season, D.J. Smith spent four seasons as an assistant on Toronto’s bench under Mike Babcock.
While the Senators, still below the Leafs in the standings, are actually having a “good news” season for their rebuilding franchise so far, Toronto’s tale has been much different. Wednesday, while mired in a six-game losing streak, Maple Leafs management decided to fire Babcock with the team sitting 9-10-4 on the season.
As Smith’s Senators prepared for a game against the Montreal Canadiens Wednesday night, the former Leafs assistant was asked for his thoughts about the news out of Toronto.
“I don’t know what to say to that,” Smith told reporters. “He’s a very good coach and they’ve certainly had a tough go of late. I know that Mike would keep battling and get that thing turned around in time, but it’s a great organization and they’re going to make decisions for what they think. And all you can do is be there for Mike.”
When Babcock first landed in Toronto in 2015-16, he brought Smith aboard. At that time Smith’s coaching experience extended to the OHL levels, as he had spent the three seasons prior as head coach of the Oshawa Generals, and as an assistant for the Windsor Spitfires before that.
He was grateful for the opportunity Babcock gave him, which effectively offered a foot in the door to his current NHL job.
“He gave me my chance in the National Hockey League, and he showed me the NHL, and he did a great job every day he went to work. It’s a tough time for him and his family, and I certainly feel for him.
“It was valuable just to see how much he worked, and how much he respects the game and goes to work every day. And he never cheats it. Never cheats anything. Never takes anything for granted. He lets you know that every day and he certainly helped me in my journey getting here.”
With files from Eric Engels