While some may still find it hard to believe the announcement of Barry Trotz’ resignation as Head Coach of the Capitals (and subsequent signing with the New York Islanders), the fact is that the Capitals will be looking for their sixth bench boss in the Alex Ovechkin era, and the early favorite (and potentially obvious) choice is Associate Coach Todd Reirden, who served as an assistant under Trotz the last four seasons. In this piece, NoVa Caps looks in-depth at what Reirden brings to the table as a coach and how promoting him seems to make the most sense for a Capitals team coming off a Stanley Cup victory.
Prior to joining Trotz’ staff in the 2014-15 season, Reirden spent four seasons as an assistant coach in Pittsburgh under former Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma. In Pittsburgh, Reirden served in much the same capacity as he has in Washington, working primarily with the team’s defensemen and organizing the penalty kill, improving the play of defensemen such as Kris Letang, Olli Maataa, and current Capitals blueliner Matt Niskanen, who had a career year in 2013-14, both his and Reirden’s last season in the Steel City. Reirden’s work with defensemen and the subsequent success of those players has earned him the nickname of “Defensemen Guru”. Reirden, however, has earned that reputation through experience and dedication to his players.
Prior to coaching, Reirden played in 183 NHL games from 1998-2004 with the Edmonton Oilers, St. Louis Blues, Atlanta Thrashers (now the Winnipeg Jets), Phoenix (now Arizona) Coyotes, recording 46 points (11 goals, 35 assists) with a minus-14 rating after being selected in the 12th-round (242nd overall) of the 1990 NHL Entry Draft. Prior to his NHL debut at the age of 27, Reirden played four seasons at Bowling Green University, recording 76 points (24 goals, 52 assists) in 140 games played. He then spent time in the American Hockey League with the Albany River Rats, the East Coast Hockey League with the Raleigh IceCaps, Jacksonville Lizard Kings, and Tallahassee Tiger Sharks, and International Hockey League with the Chicago Wolves, Fort Wayne Komets, and San Antonio Dragons. Reirden also spent time in between NHL call-ups with the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs, Worcester IceCats, and Cincinnati Mighty Ducks before finishing his North American career with the Springfield Falcons and Houston Aeros (also of the AHL) and concluding his hockey career with stops in Germany, Denmark, and Austria, and began his hockey career in high school in Massachusetts. His career totals read as follows:
AHL: 250 games played, 30 goals, 65 assists, 95 points, minus-15 rating
IHL: 192 games played, 12 goals, 33 assists, 45 points
CCHA: 140 games played, 24 goals, 52 assists, 76 points
ECHL: 91 games played, nine goals, 51 assists, 60 points
High School: 66 games played, 35 goals, 76 assists, 111 points
Germany: 37 games played, four goals, 13 assists, 17 points
Denmark: 22 games played, five goals, 10 assists, 15 points
Austria: 15 games played, two goals, six assists, eight points
Reirden does have head coaching experience, albeit at the AHL level. After Dan Bylsma was promoted to coach the NHL Penguins in 2009, Reirden replaced him as Head Coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, who subsequently went 14-9-2 (.596 win percentage) in 26 games, before losing in the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs. Reirden coached the Baby Penguins during the 2009-10 season, during which they went 41-34-0 in 80 games (.544 win percentage) before losing in the first round of the 2010 Calder Cup Playoffs. Reirden was promoted to the Penguins as an assistant coach to Bylsma before being relieved of his duties after the 2013-14 season.
Reirden’s hiring by the Capitals was a big factor in the Caps’ ability to lure free agent (and former Penguins defensemen) Brooks Orpik and Niskanen to Washington; upon signing, Niskanen stated Reirden’s presence was a big factor in his decision. Since coming to Washingotn, Reirden has helped the Capitals’ defensive corps tremendously. Over the last four seasons, the Capitals’ defense has ranked 16th, first, second, and seventh in goals-against per game and his tutelage has helped players such as John Carlson (who is a pending unrestricted free agent after a career-high 68-point season), Dmitry Orlov, Orpik, Niskanen, and former Capitals Nate Schmidt and Karl Alzner improve as players. The Capitals named Reirden an Associate Coach prior to last season and entrusted him with running the 2016-17 Training Camp while Trotz was coaching at the World Cup of Hockey. The team also prevented Reirden from interviewing with other teams for head coaching jobs last summer, a sign many took as the team holding bigger things for Reirden.
Many outside the Capitals organization have viewed Reirden as head coaching material and after Trotz; resignation, Reirden has become the likely choice as his successor, with General Manager Brian MacLellan stating that the Capitals see Reirden in that capacity. While he has no NHL head coaching experience (something that has been the death of the Capitals in the past), promoting him makes the most sense. The Caps are coming off their first Stanley Cup championship, and while Trotz may no longer be in charge, Reirden knows the culture and players of the team better than any outside hire could ever know. While there could be some growing pains with a somewhat new voice behind the bench, the team has been grooming Reirden for four seasons as an NHL bench boss. If they don’t promote him, another team surely will.
By Michael Fleetwood