Mitch Korn emerged from the hallway at Kettler Capitals IcePlex wearing a red team-issued polo shirt and, as he approached the podium, glanced at the cameras and reporters and frames of Washington logos behind him, the logos of his first new team in 17 years. “I need to stand on something,” Korn said. “I need a couple phone books.”
Armed with his reputation for humor and stories, Korn kicked off a parade of Capitals assistant coaches into the team practice facility on Monday, all made available in succession. There was Korn, the goaltending coach, talking about how Coach Barry Trotz lured his longtime Nashville colleague from thoughts of retirement.
Then came Lane Lambert, another old Trotz friend from the Predators, brought here to work with the forwards. After that was the new face, Todd Reirden, the blue-line assistant from Pittsburgh who migrated across the Metro Division with a unique perspective on the Capitals organization, and finally Blaine Forsythe, the lone holdover, the power-play coach sitting through yet another regime change.
“I like our staff,” Trotz had said Saturday from the NHL draft in Philadelphia. “There’s lots of experience. I think in terms of where they are as coaches, as a group, I think they’re going to have a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of knowledge that they’ll bring to the group and hopefully I think the staff is going to mesh well. Personalities, everybody’s going to be on the same page. We’re talking about bringing our group together as a team, having a staff that’s together, you have to have functionality through the organization. I think we’ve got that.”
The diverse construction of Washington’s coaching staff – from in-house retention to right-hand men to an unfamiliar face – was not by accident. Trotz wanted Korn because they had spent all 15 seasons in Predators history working together. Forsythe could act as a gatekeeper of sorts, welcoming everyone into town and offering advice on handling the personalities in the locker room.
Reirden, no stranger to the Penguins-Capitals rivalry, offered at once an outside voice and an Eastern Conference familiarity. Once Pittsburgh fired former coach Dan Bylsma, the Penguins told Reirden he could seek employment elsewhere. Not long after, he made contact with the Capitals. He didn’t ask for permission to speak with any other team. From that moment, Reirden said, it felt right.
“I think my ability and knowledge I have to break down opponents in this division and know their strengths and weaknesses, starting with the Penguins, will be useful information to our staff between Lane and Barry, who are more West-oriented,” Reirden said Monday. “I think it was an area of need for Barry coming over to the Eastern Conference, to have someone who was knowledgeable of in particular our own division, but also had knowledge about a specific team in that division and how we can have success.
“I certainly think that some of the details and habits I know a team like Pittsburgh emphasized and different ways those players had success or did not have success are things that will be discussed, and how to give the Washington Capitals the type of season we’re hoping to have this year.”
For Lambert, attending the draft in Philadelphia alongside Trotz, General Manager Brian MacLellan, assistant general managers Ross Mahoney and Don Fishman, and the host of Capitals scouts allowed him a leg up on the transition. Lambert had gone to Philadelphia without having agreed to join Washington. He left with a better understanding of where things stood.
“I think that was huge,” Lambert said. “It was important while I was there to get things settled and we did. And then I was able to talk to the management, but certainly the scouting staff and all the scouts, having a relationship with those guys is important and there’s only a couple of windows each year to be able to do that. It was good to meet everybody. It’s a little overwhelming because you’re trying to put names to faces and things like that, but I think it was real important for me to get involved within the organization at the draft when there was a good number of people within the organization there.”