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.

Preparing for a Caps First Round Exit

These playoffs hit differently. Obviously. But as a Caps fan, I didn’t have big expectations for them. There didn’t seem to be too much buzz coming from their camp, this is a team that’s family oriented, and there wasn’t the jump in their game it seemed.

When their round-robin games happened, people were lamenting the reason for a slow start was because the team needed more games in a time-frame so they can get a rhythm. Well, now they’re down 0-3 to a hungry team with plenty to prove to the conference. You can see how the Caps have gotten outworked in in their series and you have to tip your hat to the Islanders– they’re buying into Barry Trotz’s message and it’s paying off. Same way it did with the Caps in 2018.

At the start, I didn’t want to say that the Caps saw these playoffs as an obligation to play, but it does feel a little that way. Five months off for an older team to have however many games with them away from their family is not the most ideal situation in these trying times. Every team and every player has to go through it, but there’s something about the Caps when looking at their games that seems off and seems like they’re going through the motions in this.

This isn’t supposed to be a team where John Carlson gets completely beat on a wide-angle carry-in, leading to an OT goal. This isn’t supposed to be a team where Alex Ovechkin had five games until his first two goals and then really hasn’t been all that noticeable. This isn’t supposed to be a team where the depth of the team has gone completely silent. Tom Wilson had a good game Sunday, but guys like Jakub Vrana hasn’t been great, Michal Kempny got sat, and other have just been there.

You can chalk that up to the Islanders style of play, sure– but usually teams would adjust to that, whether it’s coach’s orders or not.

Which brings us to Todd Reirden showing that the student still is not able to best the master. Ted Starkey had a great note on the Caps coaches saying that head coaches who haven’t been able to advance out of the first round in two seasons didn’t make it to a third. I’m sure Brian McLellan won’t can Reirden just yet, given the circumstances of the playoffs, but we’re on short-leash watch for next season.

Is Reirden a bad head coach?? It sure looks like it. It’s kind of hard to believe the Caps low-balled their Cup winning head coach just because they signed this assistant out of Pittsburgh to a lower deal and thought he was ready for the bench. With Trotz’s troops– Lane Lambert and Mitch Korn– leaving as well, you almost wonder what could have been if they give him closer to what he wanted rather than being about $3.5M apart on a deal.

That all said, I can’t take away credit from the Islanders this series. They’ve played a great team game, they’ve been physical, they’ve worn down the Caps, and they seem to have much more of a jump in their step than the Caps have all series. They’ve done most everything right as much as the Caps have one most everything wrong. While it might not be a sweep and the Captain says they have nothing to lose, you almost feel like this first round ouster is all but official. So it goes.