Daily News Kings hire former Ottawa head coach D.J. Smith as an assistant

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The Kings officially hired D.J. Smith as their newest assistant coach on Tuesday, the team confirmed in a statement.

It’s something of an unusual move for Smith, who was fired as the head coach of the Ottawa Senators on Dec. 18. He, like departed Kings coach Todd McLellan, was in his fifth season with the same franchise. Now, he has accepted a lesser position with a downward-spiraling Kings club that tied the plebian Chicago Blackhawks for the fewest wins in January.

This final bit of cobbling crystallized who will be responsible for righting the Kings’ wayward ship in the final 34 games of a bipolar campaign that saw them start the year with a record number of consecutive road wins but has recently been unkind to them regardless of venue. The Kings (23-15-10) hold the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference with 56 points, but they are only four points from falling out and they have meandered through 17 games with just three victories since Dec. 28.

On Monday, General Manager Rob Blake alluded to an outside hire to fill the assistant coach void left by the promotion of power-play guru Jim Hiller to interim head coach. Almost immediately after Blake concluded his remarks, Sportsnet reported the Smith hire, and then the Kings officially confirmed it on Tuesday.

Smith became the latest addition to the myriad criss-crossings between the seemingly distant franchises. The most notable among them might be the competition between 2020’s Nos. 2 and 3 overall draft picks, the Kings’ Quinton Byfield and Ottawa’s Tim Stützle, and the indirect swap of goalies Joonas Korpisalo and Cam Talbot last summer.

Hiller and Smith also have prior history, having coached together as Toronto Maple Leafs assistants under Mike Babcock, who was also the head man in Detroit when McLellan won a Stanley Cup in Motown as an assistant in 2008. They also had somewhat similar playing careers, as dedicated pros who reached the top level but never stuck full-time (Hiller and Smith logged a combined 108 NHL games).

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Smith’s tenure in Ottawa could have been deemed relatively successful, as he elevated the Sens above a .500 points percentage last season in hockey’s strongest division by points totals, the Atlantic. But Ottawa failed to build on that positive momentum this season, leading to Smith’s dismissal and replacement by Jacques Martin, who had previously guided Ottawa, from 1996 to 2004.

Several players, including Stützle, backed their outgoing bench boss, who was 131-154-32 without a playoff appearance in Ottawa.

“He believed in us all the way, and all the young guys,” Stützle told reporters. “I think we’re there for like four or five years with him. Everybody loved playing [for] him.”

Among the Kings’ players with whom Smith has familiarity are Talbot and Andreas Englund, from their time in Ottawa. He also knew Trevor Moore from the nascence of his pro career in Toronto, where Carl Grundstrom was cutting his teeth just two miles down the road with the Leafs’ minor-league club, the Toronto Marlies.

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