Reirden Out, But Who’s In??

After failing to make the second round in as many playoffs due to the inability to adjust to their opponents, the Washington Capitals shipped off Todd Reirden to Parts Unknown, leaving the head coaching spot of the 2018 Stanley Cup champions vacant. The next coach will be the 19th coach in team history and fifth within a decade, which shows the standard the Caps are putting out there.

It’s not that Reirden was a bad choice, but probably ill-advised. He drew rave reviews getting hired from Pittsburgh to join Barry Trotz’s staff, but once he took over due to the Caps not wanting to pay Trotz’s asking price; the real Reirden showed. Offense was fine, but things seemed to have dropped off the second half of the seasons, especially this year where the Caps went 14-11-3 after January 1st and into the pause. Once they got to the bubble, the Caps didn’t look motivated or ready to play– as shown by their quick ousting.

The question now is who is out there. In land of recycled coaches, there are many to choose from, though some Caps (and NHL) fans would like to see a fresher face behind the NHL benches. Plus, the Capitals don’t like to spend a lot of money for their coaches, which means guys like Peter Laviolette and Gerard Gallant will probably be out because, while experienced, probably carry a higher price tag than most.

Management also has to worry about who will be able to guide this current core into a winning direction, while also holstering the younger core to be the leaders of this team without necessitating an entire strip-down rebuild. Nick Backstrom signed what will be likely his last contract, Alex Ovechkin has one more year left on his deal and it remains to be seen what his future will hold with the NHL, and who knows what TJ Oshie is thinking with the Seattle Kraken coming to existence and him being born in the an hour north of there in Mount Vernon. The new core of Caps will have Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson at the forefront, with Jakub Vrana and Connor McMichael in their shadow.

The blue line is an interesting beast, as John Carlson and Dmitri Orlov are the guys with Michal Kempny and Nick Jensen…well, they’re there, too. The young crop has started with Jonas Siegenthaler shuffling in and out, while the younger guys like Martin Fehervary, Alexander Alexeyev, and Lucas Johansen could be hungry enough to be shuttle guys next year. But there’s work to be done, for sure, with the new crop coming up.

The goaltending seems to have went back to the future with Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek in the mix, though the former seems to have the edge as the starter next year and beyond. Of course, we thought that about Semyon Varlamov and next thing you know Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby are coming for him.

Whoever is the new coach, they’ll need to be able to manage all of that…and at an affordable price. My mind went to Phil Housley, who is the defensive coach and power play coordinator in Arizona. People don’t like him because his wife could be a problem to fans due to her political leanings and fans may also hate his tenure in Buffalo enough to not want him…but he could be a good add for the young defense coming up. There’s always promoting from within with Spencer Carbery, but two seasons in the AHL may not be enough seasoning for him to make the move up.

But if you want an out-of-nowhere pick, maybe the play is Mike Grier out of New Jersey. A former Cap, sure, but a guy who knows the game and has vaulted the ranks from pro scout to assistant coach in a very short time in the NHL. There has been plenty of rave-reviews for Grier behind the bench and what he brings to the game and a fresh view is probably what the Caps want right now in their weird time of transition.

Back to…..the Drawing Board

It was fun at the top while it lasted.

But the Caps didn’t do themselves any favors with their play in the playoffs. There were a lot of things that they could have done better. There’s things that they didn’t do last year that they did this year. There’s things they didn’t adjust to when the Hurricanes looked so much hungrier than the Caps did.

First, the biggest thing is the lack of pressuring when they were ahead. They were up in Game Five and let it slip away. They were up by two twice in Game Seven and it ended in a double-OT loss. Maybe it was just too many games for a lot of these guys and they kind of ran out of gas. Maybe it was not being able to adjust to injuries in their line-up. Maybe it was a lot of things…the Caps just couldn’t put the Canes away.

Second, defensively there were a tire fire. An honest to god tire fire. So many turnovers in their own zone leading to quality chances for the Canes was amazingly frustrating. Whether it be dangerous passes up the middle, whether it dangerous passes in front of Braden Holtby, whether it the forwards lack of breakout support for the the defensive which– hey– caused more turnovers. There so many times the Caps went for a home-run pass the length of the ice that the Canes played perfectly in the neutral zone that I lost count and just had a heavy sigh about it. Yet– there was no adjustment.

Rod Brind’Amour adjusted better than Todd Reirden did and it showed in the result. While they shuffled some lines in Game Seven, the grand scheme of things came down to Brind’Amour getting his team much more into it that Reirden could. To a man, Canes players were behind their coach and always commented about his fiery nature to get the team going. I didn’t hear one Caps say the same about Reirden, at least on the record.

And I won’t blame losing TJ Oshie to injury. That’s a part of the game and you have to adjust– which the Caps didn’t. One of the things it did take away was low-end options on the power play. Oshie’s play in the slot was some of the nice decoys for Ovechkin to get some more space. Without that option and a fill-in to act like that (sorry Tom Wilson), the Canes were able to give the Caps minimal chances to convert.

They did what they could though. The top line was solid with Nicklas Backstrom leading the way in the goal-scoring and Alex Ovechkin being the set-up man, which was an amazing change of pace. Tom Wilson was able to get into some dirty areas at times, but maybe could have done more.

Holtby was not himself, though. Lot of soft goals, lot of saves he could have made last year that snuck by this year. Like I said, his defense didn’t help him out at all. If anything, that’s a key point to look at for next year and how they can build around John Carlson and Nick Jensen. There needs to be some help out there because Dmitri Orlov and Matt Niskanen are hit-and-miss, Brooks Orpik is out of fuel, Jonas Siegenthaler needs more time, Christian Djoos somehow isn’t cutting it. They just need to hope Michal Kempny is ready to tear up the league next year.

Lest we forget the Luis Mendoza Line (all speed, questionable hands) of Evgeny Kuznetsov, Jakub Vrana, and Carl Hagelin. When you need a secondary scoring line and it’s more of the third and fourth lines getting it done– there’s an issue. Kuznetsov, aside from the goal, seemed to be more than snakebit this series, Vrana was near invisible for the duration, and Hagelin was good on some penalty kills, but overall not worth retaining– unless they can get a good deal on him.

The Caps had a good season. It’s hard to top what they put forward last year and unless they would have swept everyone or beat everyone in Game Sevens, the dramatics were not there. Personally, this is probably the calmest I’ve been when it comes to losing a series, especially when you see them outworked as they were when you look at the greater picture.

Thank you Capitals for the ride over the past 10 months, it was fun while it lasted. Now, it’s time to reflect, figure out who’s going to be here next year, and find that hunger again.

Caps By The Numbers: Backstrom With Another Two-Goal Game

In what could be the most complete Caps game in the series, the defending Stanley Cup champions put a six-spot on the Carolina Hurricanes to go ahead three-games to two in the series with a chance to close it out on Monday. Nicklas Backstrom’s hot hand continued with two goals, Alex Ovechkin had a goal and two assists, and Nic Dowd put up a penalty shot goal for the Caps.

It was the first game without TJ Oshie, who is out indefinitely with an upper-body injury. Devante Smith-Pelly, last year’s breakout playoff star, was called up and was the energy boost the Caps seemed to need for Game 5.

When you talked playoffs heroes in DC, there was always one name that came to mind. And he’s the #19 I picked in the Trail to Dale.

Photo by Bruce Bennett

Up until last season, John Druce was a man of Capitals lore. The run that he had during the 1990 playoffs was one that every role player wants to have. While Alex Ovechkin was able to beat his goal total for a single playoff, the short time that John Druce was in Washington was one thing that most Capitals fans shouldn’t forget.

The former second-round draft pick but the Capitals in 1985, Druce plyed his craft in Peterborough of the OHL where he was a serviceable player, with his stats getting increasingly better over his tenure there. The same goes for his time in the AHL with the Binghamton Whalers and Baltimore Skipjacks, which included a 30-goal season with the Whalers. The consistency would continue onto the Caps, where he would split time between Landover and Baltimore. While he was very unassuming in the 1989-90 season, something went very right in the 1990 playoffs, where he was able to create a lot of much for the Caps.

While the first round was the Dino Ciccarelli show, Druce was able to muster three goals in the six-game series. However, Ciccarelli would be injured in the second round against the Rangers, which allowed John Druce to take over offensively. In the five game series, Druce had nine goals and two assists, including a hat-trick in Game Two and OT series-winner in Game Five. Druce would only put up two more goals and one more assist of that playoffs, as the Caps were outplayed by the Boston Bruins in the Conference Finals.

Druce came back to the Caps for the 1990-91 season and would register his only 20-goal and 50-point season of his career. He couldn’t recreate the same magic in the 1991 playoffs, only putting up a goal and assist in 11 games for the Caps, while in the 1991-92 season, Druce had 19 goals and 18 assist, but only one goal in the playoffs. Druce got moved to Winnipeg in the summer of 1992 and then had stops in Los Angeles and Philadelphia before hanging up the skates.

After playing, Druce spent five years doing junior hockey commentary for Rogers Sportsnet before going into financial advising and then co-founding Unique Vehicle Wraps, a company for advertising on cars, trucks, and buses. While some people may forget his playing career overall, I don’t think many will forget his goal-scoring abilities in the 1990 playoffs for the Caps.

Caps By The Numbers: Overtime Orpik

Of all the people to score an overtime winner, Brooks Orpik was probably the last guess. The long-shot did just that, however, as the veteran defenseman took a lovely pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov and launched it over the shoulder of Petr Mrazek to win the game 4-3 and put the Caps up 2-0 in the series. The Caps and Canes traded goals– first two, then one– with Nicklas Backstrom and TJ Oshie having goals, then two for the Canes, then Tom Wilson putting on through Mrazek before Jordan Staal tied it on the power play to send it to overtime. Orpik came off the bench on a change to find a pass and then the back of the net.

The game was not without controversy, as Nick Dowd took a hit from Micheal Ferland, to which Ferland got a match penalty. From looking at it, it’s shocking how the referees gave him a match, as the principle point of contact was to Dowd’s right arm. Nevertheless, the Caps couldn’t score on the major penalty.

With that…we go to win #18 for the Caps in the past two seasons. This time, we’ll look at someone who– when you think Capitals hockey, you think your good buddy Locker.


Craig Laughlin was one of the guys who came over to the Capitals in the Rod Langway trade. A trade that helped the Caps not only with Langway’s defensive game, but also gave the Caps a crop of color commentators in Laughlin and Brian Engblom to choose from when their careers were over.

However, as much as we know Laughlin now as the long-time color guy, many forget what a stand-out he was with the Caps in the mid-80s. Not much of the flash-and-dash, but a serviceable player for that team and was able to pot a lot of goals. Three 20-plus-goal seasons, including 30 in 1985-86; four 50-plus-point seasons, and a bit of a power play specialist with 41 of his 110 goals as a Capitals coming with the man-advantage (37.3%).

The Capitals traded Laughlin in 1988 to Los Angeles and after that season, he went to Toronto for a season, then Germany for another before hanging up his skates and returning to Washington in 1990 to start his career in broadcasting. He’s been a mainstay of the Caps broadcasts since, but it’s not just because of his skills behind the mic do people in Washington enjoy Locker.

Laughlin has always came out in the hockey community to help youth players grow their game. I remember skating at Piney Orchard, the old Capitals practice rink, and see Locker around, skating with rec league teams and giving kids pointers about their game. Laughlin created Network Hockey that focuses on player development for players in the DC/Maryland/Virginia area and helps them get to the next level.

While he was born in Toronto, Craig Laughlin found his home with the Capitals and bridges the generational gap for Capitals fans 29 years after starting his broadcasting career.

Caps By The Numbers: Backstrom’s Two Goals Propel Caps to Start Cup Defense

It was a great start for the Washington Capitals in their first ever Cup defense with three goals in the first period from their top dogs of Nicklas Backstrom (with 2) and Alex Ovechkin– but then almost got people puckered when the Carolina Hurricanes scored two goals in the third period under three minutes apart. Luckily, Lars Eller got that magic going and ended the game to give the Capitals a Game One win by the count of 4-2.

Because of that– they have kicked off the “Trail to Dale” for the Caps by the Numbers Segment. This installment…Mike Ridley.

When it comes to constant scorers for the Capitals in the late-80s, Ridley was one of those guys who brought SEVEN 20-plus goal seasons to the Capitals from his tenure from his trade from the Rangers to the Caps January 1st of 1987. Even in that 40 games of the 1986-87 season, he put up 15 goals in those 40 games he was with the Caps in his early going. On top of that he had 329 assists for the Caps in 588 games, putting to a total of 547 in his seven-and-a-half years.

One of the big years for Ridley was heading into the 1989-90 season when Ridley, along with Dino Ciccarelli and Geoff Courtnall were dubbed the “Goalbusters” by the marketing staff thanks to Ridley’s 41 goals, Courtnall’s 42 goals, and Ciccarelli’s 44 (11 goals in 12 games with the Caps) in the 1988-89 season. The poster was a joy to have in my room because it was cool when I was six.

After his fifth 70-point season in 1993-94, the Caps traded Ridley and a pick to Toronto for Rob Pearson and a draft pick. Ridley found a bit of a scoring touch with the Leafs in his first season (the shortened one) with the Leafs, but was traded to Vancouver in the offseason. An injury shortened season in 1995-96 hampered his production, but he got one final 20-goal season before he went off into the sunset.

Ridley never got as much credit as a star for the Caps that someone like Peter Bondra or Ciccarelli got. He wasn’t that flashy, wasn’t that vocal, didn’t cause a stir– he just went out there and did work, but never got the folk hero status he justly deserves for his tenure with the Caps during one of the peak times for possible Caps success.

While I haven’t been able to find where he’s at, his legacy lives on as an honoured member of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame and has the top scorer trophy of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League named after him, as well as having an endowment award at his alma mater– the University of Manitoba– for the men’s and women’s hockey team. His number is retired by the Bison, as well. Here’s to you, Ridley– maybe the team can honor you like you deserve one day.

Caps By The Numbers: Burakovsky’s Pair Lifts Caps to Stanley Cup Final

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After Alex Ovechkin scored 1:02 into the game, the Tampa Bay Lightning tried like hell to even up the game and take the lead. However, with the Caps setting up a wall in front of Braden Holtby and two Andre Burakovsky goals– the Washington Capitals will go back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1998. Holtby had back-to-back shutouts and Nicklas Backstrom had the empty net goal to finish it.

The Caps have beaten the Penguins, won a big Game 7, won the Eastern Conference, and now will try to slay another demon in beating Marc-Andre Fleury and George McPhee of the Vegas Golden Knights. Those games start Monday.

Win #12….and there’s only one.

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Before Alex Ovechkin, the Caps’ biggest superstar offensively was Peter Bondra. While he may not have had the national appeal that Ovechkin has, he was a big part of the Capitals offense in the mid-to-late-90s with nine of his 14 seasons being 30-plus goal seasons, including two 50-goal seasons in 1995-96 and 1997-98. Bondra was the new wave of goal-scorer with the exits of Mike Gartner, Dino Ciccarelli,Geoff Courtnall, and really made the team his own.

Once over from what is now Slovakia, Bondra formed a kinship with Michal Pivonka, who helped Bondra and his family get accustom to life in the US and the NHL. While Bondra would also use Dmitri Khristich as a resource, Pivonka and Bondra seemed to be the bosom buddies. With the same agent, both Bondra and Pivonka held out for a period before the 1995-96 season, where they would play in the IHL with the Detroit Vipers. Both would come back and had his top goal scoring season with 52 goals in only 67 games.

As the Caps were sinking, the team felt they owed Bondra the chance to go for a Cup, to which they traded him to Ottawa for Brooks Laich. A chapter of the Caps had closed, but due to that trade and others during the end of 2004, it paved the way for Alex Ovechkin to take the reigns and be the new face of the franchise. Luckily, Bondra is still in this organization, serving as a community ambassador and should be the next in line to get his number retired.

Caps By The Numbers: Luck on Caps Side in Game 2 Win

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It started with an Alex Ovechkin goal, it ended with a Nick Backstrom empty-netter, but in between– it was a battle. The Caps got up to a dreaded two-goal lead, but were able to hold off the on-slaught by the Penguins, including a controversial no-goal by Patric Hornqvist and a hit-to-the-head by Tom Wilson on Brian Dumoulin; but the luck seemed to give Caps a series tie as they go into Pittsburgh on Tuesday. With that fifth in of the playoffs– time to cover a famous #5 in Caps history.

Everyone knows about Rod Langway. He’s a Capitals’ legend and doesn’t need going over. But what about the guy that came before him?? Not just in position, but in number, as well. That’s where Rick Green comes in. Green was a part of the trade that brought Langway to DC, with Green going to Montreal– but he kept the #5 warm for the eventual Caps great.

Green was another first overall pick for the Capitals in 1976 and saw action immediately in the 1976-77 season, part of the lean years for the still new Capitals. Many wondered why he was picked over some proven scorers in that Draft, but then GM Max McNab thought a defenseman would help lessen the brunt of goals being scored on those lowly Caps. Green didn’t have an immediate impact and got plenty of hazing from the Landover faithful when he was around the ice. His minus-100 rating in his first three seasons probably didn’t help either.

Yet, he was still young and thrown into a role on an expansion club that saw the young rear-guard play close to 40 minutes a night, unheard of at the time for a younger defender. Green started to live up to the expectation, along with Richard Picard, to help the Caps get to their highest win total (27) in 1979-80, while the team only gave up 32 more goals than they put in. Green got the team’s top defenseman award and the team’s Unsung Hero award from the fans who used to boo him.

Green chipped in here and there offensively, as well, putting up 31 goals and 158 points in his 377 games with the Caps. But the move to trade him and Ryan Walter to Montreal in order to get Langway, Craig Laughlin, Brian Engblom, and Doug Jarvis was the first part of the “Save the Caps” movement so the team didn’t relocate. Green’s impact started with becoming better defensively and his impact worked well after he was gone by bringing in the Secretary of Defense that was Langway….and the long-time color commentator in Laughlin.

Caps By The Numbers: Backstrom Buries Winner, Caps Up in Series

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Another game, another overtime, but this time– the Amazon Bulk Fortune Cookie was right in that #19 was a lucky number for the Caps. Nicklas Backstrom netted two goals, including the OT winner to put the Caps one win away from advancing out of the first round once again. And once again– we have a former Capital to look at for the win. This time– the #3 is a first for the Caps.

Yeah, it could have been Scott Stevens or Sylvain Cote– but we’re going with the original, we’re going with the first guy– Greg Joly. That’s right, the first ever Draft pick of the Washington Capitals was the first guy to don the #3 for the Capitals.

After an impressive junior career with the Regina Pats, one that saw him put up 21 goals and 92 points as a defenseman in his last season, as well as claiming a Memorial Cup; the Caps thought they had their first franchise player. However, the lights may have been too bright for a young player like Joly. He was never able to get back to the torrid pace he had in Juniors, only playing 98 games with the Caps and putting up a total of 33 points in those games. After two seasons, the Caps gave up on their first ever pick, trading him to Detroit for Bryan “Bugsy” Watson.

Now retired into a life of insurance, many Caps fans should remember someone like Joly. He was the hot product that the Caps thought they had lucked into. Yet, it also made a cornerstone for the future of the Caps– relying heavy on defense and very questionable drafting.