The Washington Capitals named Todd Reirden as their next head coach, promoting the team’s top assistant after Barry Trotz’s sudden resignation last week. In what will be his first NHL head-coaching job, the 47-year-old Reirden will inherit a Stanley Cup-winning roster that has two seasons left with superstars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom under contract together.
The Capitals don’t reveal contract terms for coaches per team policy.
“We feel that the time is right for Todd to lead our hockey club,” Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan said in a statement. “Based on his coaching experience, communication abilities, his approach to the game and the respect he commands in our locker room, we feel that Todd has earned this opportunity. Todd has played an integral part in helping lead our team to the Stanley Cup championship, and we feel his appointment as head coach will enable our organization to transition seamlessly into next season and beyond.”
The move is not a surprise considering the Capitals long have been grooming Reirden for the role, and he has been on the cusp of such an opportunity with other teams. Reirden was a finalist for Calgary’s head job in 2016, and the Capitals promoted him to associate head coach later that summer. He ran the start of Washington’s training camp entering the following season as Trotz served as an assistant coach for Team Canada at the World Cup. Reirden was prohibited from interviewing for head-coaching jobs last summer as part of the agreement for that promotion, though he would have been allowed to go elsewhere this summer. With Trotz coaching this past season on the last of his four-year deal, Reirden was widely considered to be his in-house replacement.
At the NHL draft in Dallas last weekend, MacLellan acknowledged the job was Reirden’s to lose and Washington didn’t plan to interview anyone else if discussions with Reirden went well.
He has worked primarily with Washington’s defensemen, and since the start of the 2014 season, the Capitals have allowed the fewest goals per game (2.16) in the league with 28.4 shots against in that time. Though Washington struggled defensively during this past regular season because of significant personnel turnover with the defense corps last summer, stingy play became the team’s identity during its deep playoff run.
Coming off the franchise’s first championship, some coaching continuity is expected to be popular in the locker room, especially with how well-liked Reirden is with players. He worked individually with the Capitals’ defensemen, reviewing video of shifts with each of them after games. Defenseman Matt Niskanen worked with Reirden at his previous stop in Pittsburgh, and John Carlson has enjoyed career seasons, leading the league’s defensemen with 15 goals and 53 assists this past season. Dmitry Orlov has similarly blossomed into a top-pairing defenseman under Reirden’s tutelage. Washington defensemen combined for 176 points this season, including 138 at even strength.
“I thought he was crucial for my career and just changed kind of a few things how I looked at the game, changed a few things with the D that I think really benefited everyone on D and made it pretty clear what he expected of us and allowed us to go out there and do the rest,” Carlson said Monday.
That emphasis on development is what made Reirden a favorite to replace Trotz. MacLellan said in the wake of Trotz’s resignation last week that Washington was looking for “someone that’s up to date on the modern game.”
“Someone that’s progressive, looking to try different things,” MacLellan said as he listed the important traits of potential candidates. “Someone who has good relationships with players. They communicate and can teach, make players better. It’s becoming a developmental league where guys are coming in as not-fully developed products. We need a guy that can bring young players along because more and more we’re going to use young players as the higher-end guys make more money.”
The Capitals have a goal of repeating as Stanley Cup champions, and in what’s been a busy week for the organization, Washington has worked to keep the group together. Carlson re-signed with an eight-year, $64 million deal, as did defenseman Michal Kempny and right wing Devante Smith-Pelly. The team is expected to return its top nine forwards along with five of their top six defensemen, and promoting Reirden is an extension of that lack of turnover. Washington is also expected to return at least two assistants: Blaine Forsythe and goaltending coach Scott Murray.
“I’m sure lots of guys, everybody, going to be really happy,” Ovechkin said at the NHL Awards last week. Reirden is “a guy who’s a very good communicator, very good specialist and have lots of respect from us.”
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