Ottawa Senators rookie head coach DJ Smith has barely even started his career as a head coach at the National Hockey League level but he has already impressed many around the league with his willingness to make difficult decisions.
On Sunday Smith sent shockwaves through the NHL when he made the decision to sit Ottawa Senators star forward Bobby Ryan for the first time in over 12 years, effectively putting $7.25 million worth of his team's salary cap up in the press box. It was a move that many felt should have been made long ago, especially when you consider the fact that although Ryan continues to make star level money he is no longer a star level player, but it was also a move that no other head coach prior to Smith had the courage to make.
The move immediately paid off not only for Smith but for the entire Senators fan base as well. With Bobby Ryan on the bench the Senators welcomed the San Jose Sharks and former Senators star Erik Karlsson to town and the 20 players that Smith put out on the ice that evening responded well to his decision. Karlsson was on the ice for all 5 of Ottawa's goals as the Senators dispatched of the Sharks by a margin of 5 - 2 and although the Ryan story stole all the headlines, there were also signs that Smith was done with another of his veteran players .
Smith placed Ryan firmly in the press box but also called up 22 year old Filip Chlapik from the American Hockey League to take his place. Now that in and of itself would not have been much of a storey except for the fact that Smith also had another NHL veteran already at his disposal prior to making that call up, veteran winger Mikkel Boedker. Smith however opted once again to leave Boedker in the very same press box where he put Bobby Ryan, and now one NHL insider believes that this may be a sign that Boedker is all but done as a member of the Ottawa Senators. In a Monday morning article for the Ottawa Sun, Senators insider Bruce Garrioch stated flatly that the call up of Chlapik "means Mikkel Boedker’s days are numbered," which would certainly be a low point in the 29 year old's NHL career.
It's hard to criticize Smith when his decisions are producing positive results on the ice, and it's even harder when the overwhelming majority of his fan base seems to feverently support the difficult decisions he has made as a rookie head coach.