Photo: NHL via Getty Images
Since Barry Trotz took over behind the Capitals bench before the 2014-15 season, the Capitals have won three Metropolitan Division titles, two President’s Trophies, and have returned to being a perennial playoff team. Associate Coach Todd Reirden was also one of the new members of the team’s coaching staff and four seasons later, both coaches’ respective futures after this season are firmly intertwined.
Despite Trotz’ regular season success, he has failed to guide the Caps to a Stanley Cup win, this despite a roster that was jam-packed with star players the last two seasons. With the Capitals clinching their third consecutive Metropolitan Division title just two days ago, the Caps are heading to the Stanley Cup Playoffs four the fourth consecutive season under Trotz. Unlike the last two seasons, when the expectations were sky-high when it came to results, the hype around the Caps is somewhat tempered. Trotz could very well be coaching for his job, as his contract is set to expire after the season, and General Manager Brian MacLellan was non-committal when asked last spring if an extension with Trotz would be explored during the summer. MacLellan himself recently signed an extension of his own, but Trotz has yet to receive one.
Reirden was hired by the Capitals as one of Trotz’ assistant coaches and his primary job since coming to Washington from the Pittsburgh Penguins has been to work with the Capitals’ defensemen, something that has worked wonders for multiple players, including longtime Capital John Carlson (who is finishing up a career, Norris Trophy-worthy season), Dmitry Orlov, Matt Niskanen, and Christian Djoos, as well as former Capital Nate Schmidt. In his four seasons with the Capitals, Reirden has earned himself a well-deserved reputation as a budding head coaching candidate. The Capitals promoted Reirden to the role of Associate Coach last season, an indication they too think highly of him and he was given the task of running the Capitals’ Training Camp before the 2016-17 season while Trotz was at the World Cup of Hockey.
Which makes the decision on Trotz’ future one that will ultimately decide whether or not Reirden goes elsewhere for a head coaching job. There was heavy interest in Reirden for several of the head coaching vacancies around the league last summer, however, the Capitals did not allow him to speak with any of the teams interested. The Caps have stated before they will always allow their assistant coaches to explore head coaching jobs if the opportunity ever presented itself and last summer was a contradiction to that. It’s unlikely the Capitals would have prohibited Reirden from interviewing elsewhere if they did not have bigger plans for him in the future. His promotion to Associate Coach only provides support to that theory. If the Capitals were to re-sign Trotz to a multi-year extension following this season, it is safe to assume that Reirden would more than likely want to explore other opportunities.
The Capitals’ front office clearly faces a tough decision this offseason (one that may or may not be easier depending on how the team performs during the playoffs this spring) and it is not often that a team finds itself in a position like this. Re-sign Trotz and the team would likely risk losing Reirden to another club; allow Trotz (a future Hall of Fame coach who has done so much for the Capitals in his four seasons behind the bench) to leave, and Reirden (who has proven himself ready for a promotion) could prove a worthy replacement. Either way, the decision isn’t easier.
By Michael Fleetwood