What we learned about the Senators and new head coach Travis Green

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Heading into the 2023-24 season, the Ottawa Senators were full of potential and promise. The young team had hung around the 2023 playoff race longer than it had in recent seasons, finishing with 86 points — the most since their last playoff appearance in 2017. The rebuild was trending up and, with the core one year older, wiser and more experienced, the Senators were seen as a playoff contender.

But just about nothing went according to plan from there. Shane Pinto, an important centre, was suspended 41 games for violating the NHL’s gambling policies before the season even started. Former GM Pierre Dorion was fired less than a month into the season after the league penalized the team one of its next three first-round picks for mishandling Evgenii Dadonov’s no-trade clause. About a month and a half after that, head coach DJ Smith was let go, replaced by Jacques Martin for the rest of the season. And then right near the end of the season, Josh Norris, another key centre, had to undergo his third shoulder surgery to end his campaign.

It was a roller coaster of a year for Michael Andlauer, his first as the new owner of the team.

The page will turn on a disappointing season that stepped back to a 78-point finish, but the expectations next October will only continue to grow. Though they hold a high draft pick at seventh overall, these Senators are supposed to be through the rebuild.

On Wednesday, Travis Green was introduced as the 14th coach in team history, signed to a four-year contract GM Steve Staios said will give Green time to nurture his system and style. With the next coach in place, all eyes (for now) return to Staios, who still has a mountain of work ahead of him. The team as it stands is not likely to be the same one Green will be coaching in the fall, but he’s the one who’s already setting the tone for that group.

“Not always do you land on what we feel is a perfect fit for our group,” Staios said. “This is also a massive step for our organization. The work now becomes for me to be able to support Travis, build out the coaching staff, and continue to look forward.”

With Green in place, here are some of the things we learned at his introductory press conference.

WHY THE SENATORS THINK GREEN IS THE GUY

While some in the Ottawa market were hoping for a bigger name, someone with more experience, or a Stanley Cup winner, Green comes to town with just one post-season appearance on his NHL head coaching resume — and that came with Vancouver in the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season.

In four full seasons as head coach with the Canucks, Green missed on the post-season three times and was fired in his fifth season after a 8-15-0 start. Two years later, the Canucks are the top seed in the Pacific Division.

Prior to his time with the Canucks, Green made a Calder Cup Final appearance with Utica, but again, missed the playoffs in two of four seasons. And, in 2023-24, Green started as an associate coach with the New Jersey Devils, who fired Lindy Ruff in March as an expected playoff bid faded away. Green stepped into the interim position and led the Devils to an 8-12-1 record.

“You gotta look at what the team was at the time, all the circumstances behind it, the age of the group, the talent of the group,” Staios said. “I know coaches get judged on their coaching records, but there’s also a lot more to it. I think, as we watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs right now, you could look at a few or a handful of coaches that are contending for a Stanley Cup now that were in the exact same position as Travis is right now after their first coaching stint. So it’s a lot deeper than just looking at win-loss records.”

Peter DeBoer, for instance, whiffed on the playoffs in his first three years as an NHL head coach with the Florida Panthers, missed in two of three years with New Jersey, and then won six round in four years with San Jose, including an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final. Rick Tocchet missed the post-season in two years with Tampa Bay, then in three of four years with the Coyotes and didn’t win a playoff round. Now he’s a Jack Adams finalist.

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Meanwhile, when Green was with the Canucks, it was a tumultuous time with management struggling to balance rebuilding and pushing ahead. The team turned around after Green left, yes, but that also happened under new management and with several changes made to the roster.

“I think I’m just a better coach from experience,” Green said. “It’s like anything in life, the more you have experience the better you’re going to get. I look at myself as someone who’s able to self-evaluate, have a bit of a growth mindset and try to improve.

“I just know through experience, through some positive times and adversity — you learn a lot when you go through adversity — I’m confident I’m a much better coach today than I was 6-7 years ago.”

WHAT DOES GREEN THINK IS MISSING FROM THE SENATORS?

The Senators missed on the playoffs by 13 points, finished 20th in goals for, 28th in goals against, 23rd in power-play efficiency, and was 29th on the penalty kill. So what is Green going to start with?

“Defensively is part of where we need to get better,” Green said. “You see that a lot with young, skilled players, getting them to grasp the commitment level to play in their zone. For me that’s number one.

“I remember being a young player at 19 or 20, being used to scoring goals. If you talked to me about defence, I was probably not listening. And a lot of coaches would say at 25 I probably wasn’t listening either, so I get that part of it. If you want to win you have to play a 200-foot game.”

There’s an idea that these Senators needed a “tough” coach to push and get the most out of a group that started slow and chased the entire 2023-24 season. Green may not have that exact reputation as someone like Craig Berube does.

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Green doesn’t describe himself as a “tough” coach, but a “demanding” one.

“When you talk about a tough coach I think that gives you a persona of a certain type of person or coach,” Green said. “I’m just a demanding coach that wants the best out of my players. I want to push them to be their best, to tap their potential, but also work with them and make them understand what that is.

“Being a demanding coach isn’t always yelling at a player or sitting out a player. It’s sometimes giving a player confidence if they’re feeling down. And there are times when good players lose their confidence and now they need a coach that’s not looking at them in an negative way. Being a demanding coach comes in a lot of different ways and I think if you’re good with people and have good people skills to read the player, you figure out what the player needs to be pushed to their max. And I take a lot of pride in being that type of coach.”

GREEN’S COACHING STAFF IS STILL A WORK IN PROGRESS

Green may be in place, but decisions still need to be made on who will be working alongside him on the bench.

“I’m going to be very thorough, work with Steve to put together the right staff for our group,” Green said. “We’ll talk to the people who’ve been here first and foremost, but I want to make sure we do a thorough job in that process in getting a perfect staff around me, but also for our group.”

One of the positives of this season and the early Andlauer ownership era is how some past franchise icons have been welcomed back and integrated into the hockey operations side of the business. Daniel Alfredsson returned in October in a player development role, but when the coaching staff was changed in December, he moved to the bench as an assistant.

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In March, Alfredsson told our Wayne Scanlan that he had caught the “coaching bug” and that a future in that role intrigued him more than he initially thought. Green was asked if Alfredsson might be in consideration to continue on as an assistant.

“I really look forward to speaking with Daniel,” Green said. “We texted back and forth yesterday to get this thoughts and ideas, where he wants to go, if he wants to be a coach full-time. I’m open to everything he wants to do.

“When I was in Vancouver it was similar with Hank and Daniel (Sedin). I had them as players my first year and then they retired. Now, obviously our Daniel’s been out for a while, but they mean something to the team, they mean something to the organization.”

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