Reirden Out, Who's Next?
In January for the second consecutive year, in only his second season as a head coach, Todd Reirden was named the coach of the Metropolitan Division All-Star team.
On Sunday Todd Reirden was fired.
“We've had a good culture here and it's starting to slip. We need to grab a hold of it. And get it back to where it was,” said Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan.
“We've developed the habit of thinking that we can play good when we have to play good versus let's develop good habits. Have consistency with our good habits and the games will take care of themselves.”
The lack of consistency showed in the Capitals series vs. the Islanders where even defenseman Brenden Dillon admitted it “took us 10 periods to get going in this series.”
Reirden was dealt one of the more unique hands of any recent head coaching hire.
He took over a team ready to compete. They had just came off a Stanley Cup championship, no rebuild was necessary. But he also came into an organization where the bar had been raised to the highest level.
Living in the glow of the franchise's first Stanley Cup championship, Capitals fans were willing to give Reirden a pass in year one when they lost in the first round to the Carolina Hurricanes in overtime of game 7.
But this year, pause and bubble aside, the fan base and organization seemed to demand more. An apathetic showing in a series against former head coach Barry Trotz seemed to seal the deal. More postseason success was expected.
Reirden may have deserved one more season to prove his worth. While the core of the Capitals remained from the group that won the Cup in 2018, it is also the same core that had come up short in the postseason for the decade before.
The days of dynasties are over. Each year if you make the playoff you have a shot at the Cup and while you may hit the lottery and win multiple times, the odds of that happening aren’t in your favor.
So is all the playoff failure the last two years on Reirden? No. But it wasn’t just the postseason play in the bubble that concerned MacLellan.
“Christmas this year, you can see the style of play had started to deteriorate. Our team game wasn't as good as it had been. It was going in the wrong direction. Our compete level was in and out. We had some inconsistencies.”
So who do the Capitals turn to now?
“We need an experienced coach,” MacLellan said. “We have an experienced crew. We need someone that can come in and push some buttons on some players, some good players.”
Hiring a veteran coach is a new experience for the Capitals who since Alex Ovechkin came to town have hired five coaches, four of which were first time head coaches.
The fifth coach, Trotz, led them to the Stanley Cup.
Part of the reason for this has been the organizations tight purse strings when paying for a head coach. This played a role in the soap opera that led to Trotz leaving in the summer of 2018.
On Sunday MacLellan said the Capitals were willing to pay Trotz fair market value in 2018 and going forward ownership is open to spending money on the coach.
Whoever the next coach is, the expectations have been made clear, the Capitals still feel their core should be contending for the Stanley Cup.
“We won a championship. We believe in the players that came back and we tried to maintain that team,” MacLellan said. “We have a Norris trophy candidate, our top six forwards should be as competitive as anybody in the league. We have elements that are still a competitive team.”
In addition to the veteran foundation the next coach will also have to groom a new group of young players who the Capitals are hoping to make up the next core of the team including potential new starting goalie Ilya Samsonov and 2019 first round draft pick Connor McMichael.
“Development is huge,” MacLellan said. “Our team is constructed on draft picks and development of draft picks. Ovechkin, Backstrom, Vrana, Kuznetsov, Wilson these are picks our amateur guys have made and we've done a pretty decent job of development. And hopefully our organization is set up that will continue to successfully develop our young players.”
What experienced coach will MacLellan trust to accomplish all these goals? Well, he has some options:
Gerard Gallant: Maybe the most talked about name for this job, Gallant saw the Capitals at their best as the opposing coach in the 2018 Stanley Cup final. But for all his success Gallant has only advanced past the first round of the playoffs as a head coach once and has never coached a superstar at the level of Alex Ovechkin.
Mike Babcock: Want a coach who has proven he can win in the playoffs with good teams? Want a coach who has proven he can coach stars? But do the Capitals want to pay him? And do they trust him to create a culture their young players can develop in?
Dan Bylsma: Bylsma has a Stanley Cup ring coaching a superstar from his first year in Pittsburgh. But he hasn’t been able to match that level of playoff success since, going as far as the conference final just once again.
Peter Laviolette: His playoff record is only matched by Babcock with a Stanley Cup, although it was a decade and a half ago, and two other trips to the final. The last time the Capitals hired a former Predators coach it ended up turning out okay.
Bruce Boudreau: Why hire another former Predators head coach when you can hire a former Capitals head coach! Boudreau has made it clear he wants to coach again and would be happy to come back to his old team 9 years after being let go. Only Ovechkin, Backstrom, Carlson and Orlov remain in D.C. from Boudreau’s time there and while those four did win a Stanley Cup, it’s still eluded Boudreau.
Randy Carlyle: With one Stanley Cup his playoff track record isn’t as deep as Laviolette or Babcock but he brings the veteran presence the Capitals are looking for.
Jim Montgomery: The timing may be too soon after Montgomery was fired in January for personal behavior issues relating to alcohol abuse but when he is able to coach again expect Montgomery to get another chance. While Montgomery had success in his year and a half in Dallas the Capitals may also want someone with more experience as a head coach at the NHL level.
Darryl Sutter: The only coach on this list with two Stanley Cups as a head coach. And MacLellan said he wanted someone who could push some buttons.
Mike Keenan: Want to push some buttons?