Washington Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan is conducting a “thorough evaluation” of the team, a team spokesman said Monday. And according to a person with knowledge of the team’s thinking, that will include consideration of Coach Barry Trotz’s future with the franchise.
The review following Washington’s second-round loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins has delayed MacLellan’s season-review news conference with reporters. In the past, MacLellan has typically held his end-of-season meeting with media within a week of the Capitals’ last loss, and the delay has prompted some speculation that a shake-up could be coming.
The offseason figures to bring significant changes to the Capitals’ roster, with only 11 players under contract.
Trotz is the only coach MacLellan has worked with since he was promoted to general manager three years ago. After the Capitals’ season ended Wednesday night, MacLellan met with each player individually on Friday and then planned to spend time with individual members of the coaching staff this week. Ahead of those meetings, there wasn’t certainty in the organization on whether the Capitals would bring back Trotz for a fourth season.
Trotz’s contract goes through next season, so if MacLellan does stick with him, it’s possible the coach and the team could also work out an extension for the optics of organizational stability. Because the team was without a coach and general manager three years ago, owner Ted Leonsis and team President Dick Patrick were the ones who interviewed Trotz before settling on him as their choice. The hires of MacLellan and Trotz were later simultaneously announced.
While the Capitals have been the league’s best regular season team two seasons in a row, winning a combined 111 games in that span, Washington’s postseason results have plateaued. In the three years under Trotz, the Capitals have three straight playoff exits in the second round. This year’s was especially disappointing because Washington was shut out at home in Game 7 against a banged-up Penguins team missing No. 1 defenseman Kris Letang and top goaltender Matt Murray for the entire series. Superstar center Sidney Crosby also missed one game and the majority of another with a concussion, and the Capitals lost Game 4 in Pittsburgh while he was out, missing an opportunity to tie the series.
Trotz boasts 18 years of NHL head-coaching experience, but just like Washington’s Alex Ovechkin-led core, he has never advanced past the second round.
This was the second season of what MacLellan called “a two-year window” for this group, so he made several moves to build as complete a roster as possible under salary cap constraints. Another thing MacLellan is now evaluating is how the organization moves forward with its roster, as five players are entering unrestricted free agency and six others will be restricted free agents this summer. Washington intends to still contend for a Stanley Cup next season, but roster turnover is expected and several players asked for change in their exit interviews with reporters Friday.
When defenseman Matt Niskanen was asked what those changes should be before next season, he replied, “That’s the million dollar question, ain’t it?”
“I don’t have a good answer for you,” Niskanen continued. “I don’t know. There’s going to be some people that change. How much is yet to be decided, and that’s not my decision to make, thankfully. As players, and as an organization, we’ve got to get better. Because it’s all about results. You know, the time for talking and fluff is done. We need results. So someone’s going to have to make some tough calls on people, and we’ll see where that takes us.”
Coaching turnover could be coming to the Capitals even if Trotz returns for next season. This season was the last on goaltending coach Mitch Korn’s contract, and whether an extension is in the works for him is unclear. Associate coach Todd Reirden is reportedly set to interview with the Florida Panthers for their vacant head-coaching position, and he is also considered a candidate in Buffalo. He could be a candidate in Washington if the head job became open. If the Capitals wanted someone with Stanley Cup-coaching experience, Darryl Sutter won two championships with the Los Angeles Kings before being fired after this season. Dan Bylsma, who won a Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 2009, is also available after he was recently ousted in Buffalo.
When Trotz was asked if he expected the Capitals to make any coaching changes after a disappointing end to a season like this one, he deferred to MacLellan.
“When [MacLellan] goes through everything, that would be a question for Mac because he’s going to go through everything that we’ve said…” Trotz said. “He meets with the players as well, and we’re going to evaluate all our areas in the organization. So that’s probably a better question for him. I know we’re going to have change on the player side. That’s just natural. So that would be a better question for Mac than me right now.”
Barry Svrluga contributed to this report.