Midseason Sens fan survey results, Part 1: Ownership, arena, next coach and more

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Midseason Sens fan survey results, Part 1: Ownership, arena, next coach and more

My original plan was to release the first instalment of these survey results Monday morning.

That was looking good until the final five seconds of the Ottawa Senators–Toronto Maple Leafs game Saturday evening, which forced me to write this column instead.

Now that we have that out of the way, there is a zero percent chance that any Toronto fans will drop by the comments section of this piece. This one is tailored just for you Ottawa fans, reflective of your feelings about the franchise just after the midway mark of this season.

During Ottawa’s bye week, I asked a handful of questions about the organization and almost 1,400 of you took the time to respond, giving us an excellent window into how Senators fans are feeling about the state of the franchise.

This first instalment includes answers to roughly half the questions that were asked, focusing mostly on management and coaching. Later this week, we’ll drop the second instalment of these survey results, which focus on your feelings about the players and roster heading into the trade deadline.

(That is unless something nutty happens at the end of the Senators-Columbus Blue Jackets game).

Some comments have been edited for style and clarity.

What phrase best describes your feelings toward the Senators at the midpoint of this season?

NowMay 2023September 2022

Excited

2.6

45.5

65.2

Cautiously Optimistic

38.2

46.8

32.9

Skeptical

16.2

4.2

1.7

Indifferent

8.4

0.8

0.1

Pessimistic

5.7

0.4

0.1

Frustrated

28.9

2.2

0

What readers are saying:

Things have become particularly depressing with the Sens this year because it no longer feels like they can sell hope. We no longer have any good prospects to look forward to. Our young players have enough NHL experience that we know what kind of players they are. And we are still a bottom-of-the-barrel team. 

As for their recent play tempering fan frustration, yeah, not so much for me. If anything it makes me more frustrated because we’ve been to this BBQ before.

My analysis:

The amount of frustration in the market is palpable. Consider that more than 90 percent of fans put themselves in either the “excited” or “cautiously optimistic” category in each of our last two surveys. Now, however, that number has dipped to roughly 40 percent, with almost everybody abandoning the “excited” option.

I think a lot of the frustration is rooted in the fact this team has tripped out of the gate in each of the last three years, which it vowed to correct this season. And so when it happened again last fall, a lot of fans threw their hands up and said, “Enough.” There are certainly reasons to be cautiously optimistic, but the fans have spoken pretty loudly.

They are withholding their excitement until they see a sustained period of success from this team on the ice.

What do you think was the biggest reason for Ottawa’s slow start in the first half?

Reason

Coaching from D.J. Smith

47.5

Unstable goaltending

28.2

Roster construction

18.9

Injuries/Pinto suspension

5.4

What readers are saying:

If you’d asked me even when he was fired if I thought D.J.’s coaching was the reason I thought they were doing poorly, I don’t think it would have been so clear-cut. What made it more apparent was how much work it took to rebuild the guys’ confidence under the new system, which we’re (hopefully) seeing results from now.

This season derailed when the ownership handover dragged on through the summer and early fall. Dorion was provided with a longer leash than he deserved without direction from the incoming ownership group. Smith was the coach longer than he should have been. Michael Andlauer and Steve Staios were skating the moment they got the keys and didn’t have the time to make the changes they likely wanted to make in the summer.

My analysis:

Almost half the readers surveyed pointed at coaching as the top reason why the Senators endured a difficult first half of the season. The Senators were 11-15-0 when they fired D.J. Smith 26 games into the season in mid-December. They have posted a 10-10-2 mark under Jacques Martin’s guidance, which includes a 6-1-2 mark over their past nine contests.

Goaltending and roster construction also received significant votes on this question, including nearly 30 percent of respondents blaming Ottawa’s goaltending for its first-half woes.

How would you rank your confidence level in the management/ownership structure (Andlauer/Staios/Poulin) to turn this program around and make the Senators a playoff contender in the next 12-24 months?

Confidence LevelPct Of Vote

1

0.4

2

0.7

3

2.8

4

3.1

5

8.2

6

13.2

7

25.2

8

27.4

9

12

10

2

What readers are saying:

I’ve got blind confidence in this management group, but that makes me very nervous for their first foray in the trade market.

I understand the new ownership and management want to take their time and make the right decisions, but with the D.J. decision, it took too long. They need to be careful or they won’t be seen as patient — but indecisive.

Quite a change to have confidence in the Sens front office. Will be interesting to see what Staios does at the deadline and in the summer. 

The new administration’s professionalism and patience have been a breath of fresh air. Still, Andlauer’s tendency to hire old friends and colleagues is potentially worrisome.

While I want to believe in the new regime of ownership and management, their trust still has to be earned over time.

My analysis:

The majority of Ottawa fans seem pretty confident about the new ownership regime, with more than half of our respondents selecting a seven or eight out of 10 in the confidence rating. A lot of fans wrote in saying they really like Michael Andlauer’s professionalism and personality, but they are wary of him making too many “internal” hires of people he already knows.

I think the results of this question show that Andlauer and Staios are still basking in the “honeymoon phase” and will be given time to put their stamp on this organization.


The Senators and general manager Pierre Dorion mutually parted ways on Nov. 1. (André Ringuette / NHLI via Getty Images)

Based on his entire body of work, what letter grade would you ultimately give Pierre Dorion for his job as general manager of the Senators?

Letter GradePct of Vote

A

0.7

B

19.6

C

55.7

D

24.0

What readers are saying:

I answered D because strictly as a GM I think he was poor at his job. Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, Alex DeBrincat, Joonas Korpisalo (maybe needs more time) all look bad in retrospect.

Gave Dorion a C, but I believe that also had much to do with the lack of support (financial/lack of staff, etc). Previous owner did not leave the team in great shape.

I gave Dorion a D because F is not an option.

My analysis:

If you want a case of whiplash, just look at how Dorion’s perception has ebbed and flowed in this market.

At the end of the 2021-22 season, only 25.9 percent of fans believed Dorion was the right general manager to lead this team into the playoffs. In October of 2022, however, that answer soared to 85.3 percent after the infamous “Summer of Pierre.” At the end of last season, that question was down to almost an even 50-50 split.

And those wild swings in popularity seem to perfectly encapsulate the unpredictability of the Dorion era in Ottawa. Based on these results, Sens fans are fairly critical of Dorion’s tenure with a bit of hindsight. They look at an empty prospect cupboard, a team that is at the salary-cap ceiling and no playoff berths as signs of poor stewardship on the part of the previous general manager.

Based on his entire body of work, what letter grade would you ultimately give D.J. Smith for his job as head coach of the Senators?

Letter GradePct of Vote

A

0.6

B

22.5

C

53.4

D

23.4

What readers are saying:

I was probably kinder to D.J. Smith in grading him with a B because I think he was the right coach for a reasonable amount of his tenure. It’s not his fault he was kept around maybe a year too long by poor upper management.

D.J. deserves his share of the blame for seemingly not putting in place proper habits away from the puck and encouraging the bad defensive habits of the players.

D.J. Smith is a good development coach who simply just ran his course in Ottawa this season.

My analysis:

It’s fascinating how the grading for Dorion and Smith came back almost identical. Many fans seemed to have a softer touch when commenting on Smith, but their harsh grading of the former head coach leaves little room for interpretation. At the end of the 2020-21 season, almost 80 percent of Ottawa fans believed Smith was the right head coach to guide them to a playoff spot. But with each passing year, that confidence level dipped to the point where the fans in Ottawa were simply ready for a change behind the bench.

Who would you like to see behind the bench as the head coach of the Senators in October? (Given the current pool of candidates available)

CandidatePct of Vote

Craig Berube

48.0

Jacques Martin

16.5

Gerard Gallant

14.5

Bruce Boudreau

9.5

John Gruden

8.2

Daniel Alfredsson

3.3

What readers are saying:

There will be some good coaches available this summer. Sens fans are hoping we will land our first bona fide NHL coach since Bryan Murray.

The rumours around John Gruden are more concerning. With a core this fragile, experience and confidence are critical. Hiring a first-time NHL coach just isn’t what this team needs right now, even if he and the owner go way back.

Dean Evason should have been an option for this question. I think he’d be a great fit.

My analysis:

I am having a tinge of regret not asking about Patrick Roy in some fashion, as he was hired by the New York Islanders after we launched this survey. But some readers did indicate that Roy would have been their preferred choice in Ottawa.

Others also suggested Dean Evason and Claude Julien as candidates. But when looking at the options presented, Craig Berube is the runaway leader with nearly half the voters choosing him. Interestingly, almost one in every six people chose Jacques Martin to stick around and be the ideal coach for next season.

Which punishment to the Senators do you think deserved more transparency and honesty from the NHL?

SituationPct of Vote

Dadonov trade

50.1

Pinto suspension

49.9

What readers are saying:

I would love to know how the Evgenii Dadonov trade thing happened, especially when that information about his contract was public knowledge. Literally anyone in the world could have looked that up on CapFriendly and figured it out. Dorion messed up, but are we not doing any kind of due diligence these days?

Sens fans deserve more transparency on the Shane Pinto situation, however, I believe Andlauer deserves better from the NHL in the Dadonov situation. He paid an inflated price for a Canadian franchise to help the NHL with future expansion valuations, only for the league to turn around and penalize him harshly for a situation that occurred before he had control.

I wish all of the above was an option for this question.

My analysis:

In the history of doing surveys with The Athletic, I don’t think I’ve ever had a question that was split so closely down the middle. Translation? I think Ottawa fans wanted full truth and transparency on both of these stories.

In five-to-seven years, where would you like the Senators’ arena to be located?

LocationPct of Votes

LeBreton Flats

58.0

Another downtown location

32.5

Same location (Kanata)

9.5

What readers are saying:

Any discussion about venues other than LeBreton for the Sens is not in the best interest of the fans. Mark Sutcliffe’s continuous concern for other locations is fueled by either tax revenue or developer relationships he has trying to get in on the project. 

Regarding the arena, please for the love of God just build it at LeBreton. There is no better site that will be available anytime soon.

It’s difficult to answer the arena question without a specific, feasible proposal for an alternate downtown location. I think The Athletic shouldn’t give the mayor a soapbox until he’s taken steps at making plans for another proposal.

For me, it’s either Kanata or somewhere off the highway. We need a hockey village like Edmonton or a sports district like the Atlanta Braves. 

My analysis:

Senators fans spoke pretty loudly on this one, with nearly 60 percent of fans saying they would like the arena to be located at LeBreton Flats. There was also a lot of anger in the comments about this recent article, in which Ottawa mayor Mark Sutcliffe told The Athletic he wants to zero in on an alternate downtown location for the Senators’ arena. Critics of that plan feel like the mayor is just posturing and playing politics with the future home of the NHL franchise.

Until there is a tangible and viable alternative tabled, it sure feels like the majority of Ottawa fans want to go ahead and start planning for an arena at LeBreton Flats.

(Top photo of Michael Andlauer: Arianne Bergeron / NHLI via Getty Images)