Ottawa Senators head coach D.J. Smith came to the defence of his captain on Monday.
Asked about Brady Tkachuk’s postgame comments calling out Senators fans for booing during Saturday’s 6-4 loss to Tampa Bay, Smith said the forward “loves Ottawa.”
“First off, I think we don’t want to focus on the noise but I think Brady’s a passionate – he was frustrated after the game,” Smith said. “Brady chose Ottawa as his home for a long time … he’s all Ottawa.
“I think when we have anything where there’s an opportunity to sign [autographs], Brady’s the last guy coming off. He signs until someone on the team pulls him off. So the one thing I know, is that Brady Tkachuk loves Ottawa and he loves the fans.”
The 24-year-old Tkachuk was picked fourth overall by Ottawa at the 2018 draft. He has eight goals and three assists in 10 games this season, coming off a career year in 2022-23 when he had 35 goals and 48 assists in 82 appearances.
The Senators (4-6-0), who haven’t made the playoffs since 2017, have struggled the last few games. With five regulars missing from the lineup, Ottawa has gone 1-5-0 in its past six and sits last in both the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference.
Tkachuk and his teammates were booed off the ice Saturday and fans called for Smith’s firing throughout the game.
“Whenever you don’t win it’s frustrating,” Tkachuk said postgame Saturday night. “It’s frustrating the negativity from the outside. The constant booing … from the crowd tonight was frustrating, too.
“I understand they’re a passionate fan base, I understand, I love it, but when you face adversity you don’t turn your back on the guys out there. I mean, we’re playing hard. I know it’s frustrating right now, but it’s not like we’re giving up out there. We’re fighting to the very end. So, to be honest with you, yeah, it was frustrating tonight.”
While Smith wants the outside noise ignored, the Senators have dealt with their share of headlines early this season.
Restricted free agent forward Shane Pinto received a 41-game suspension for violating league gambling rules on Oct. 27. Then came the firing of general manager Pierre Dorion on Nov. 1 after Ottawa was docked a first-round pick for its role in an invalidated trade from 2021.
But Smith is confident in his captain’s development and leadership.
“I'll tell you this, Brady Tkachuk is … as good a leader on and off the ice as I've seen” Smith said. “And he’s the guy that fights for the little guy when no one’s around.
“He’s going to continue to grow as a player, as you can see his game has really evolved. But he’s going to continue to be a leader that the city could definitely be proud of.”