The 47-year old faces a unique challenge this upcoming season. Reirden became only the fifth coach in NHL history to take over a reigning Stanley Cup Champion, when the team promoted him to the head coaching job on June 29. He was an associate coach under Barry Trotz, who resigned as the Capitals’ head coach June 18 and signed a five-year contract with the New York Islanders three days later.
Reirden was an assistant coach with the Capitals during the first two years of the Trotz era, after being an associate coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins from 2010-14, when Dan Bylsma was their head coach. He coached Wilkes-Barry Scranton, the Penguins’ AHL affiliate, the two years prior.
Reirden recently discussed his coaching philosophy, taking over the reigning champions, and the roles of his new assistant coaches, with Chris Kuc of the Athletic DC. (You can read Chris’ excellent interview with Reirden here).
When asked about his coaching philosophy, Reirden replied “You have to be able to communicate with players, and you have to be able to create an environment where they enjoy coming to work but yet they are held accountable. It’s open, it’s fair, and yet it’s challenging. A lot of my coaching style is communication-based. That’s what I feel has been very effective in the past few years as I’ve climbed the ladder. I think the players would describe me as someone who is fair, honest, upfront and challenges them but also creates an environment that they enjoy coming in and being a part of.”
When asked about changing anything from last year, Reirden told the Athletic “With us having 18 of our 20 players back, (general manager) Brian MacLellan and his staff did an excellent job of retaining the majority of our pieces to our puzzle last year. The system that we were able to play was something that really suited our team. We made some adjustments in-season, and the players bought into the belief and commitment to what we were doing.”
“Trotz did a great job of delegating responsibility in giving not just myself but our staff a lot of say-so in what things were being done as a group. I feel comfortable going with the majority of the same things that we had done last year, in particular, five-on-five and with our power play.”
“If there’s anything that I’m looking to adjust it would be our penalty kill. It was something that was right around the halfway point in the league [15th at 80.3 percent] and something that we can continue to change our style with some different personnel than we had since we’ve lost Jay Beagle.”
When asked about the system he runs, Reirden told the Athletic “It’s really important that we have five-man units in all areas of the ice. Our defensemen are part of the attack and a big part of our offense, and that comes from the ability to come back in the defensive zone and defend, and then when you get the puck to be able to execute with possession and go as quickly as we can and get it into the hands of our forwards. Our forward group is extremely skilled and talented. We’ve been able to add some speed over the last year that’s really been effective. We’re the type of team that can really play any kind of game. We were able to have success against some teams that had a ton of speed and skill in the playoffs, and some that played a little bit of a more hard-nose game.”
When discussing the roles of his two new assistants, Reirden said “Reid Cashman is someone that I had coached years ago and always kept in contact with. He did a phenomenal job of helping get Quinnipiac (University) to the Final Four on a couple of different occasions, and when we had an opportunity to hire a coach in Hershey (in 2016), he was somebody that I always envisioned as a guy that I would love to have on my staff and believes strongly in the same way that I did in terms of developing defensemen and the importance of the habits and details that these players have and how to set them up for success. He’ll be working with our defense. He is someone I feel extremely comfortable with, and I think he’s ready and prepared for that opportunity, especially with the fact he’s worked with a number of our top prospects that we have that are defensemen. I feel really good about adding him to our staff.
Then it was important that I added someone that had the experience that Scott Arniel has, not only as a player in the league but also having been a head coach in the league and also been a part of staffs and worked for extremely experienced coaches like Alain Vigneault and Lindy Ruff and Randy Carlyle. He’s going to be working primarily with our wingers and our penalty kill.
Blaine Forsythe has been with us for a few years, and he’ll continue to work with the centermen and he’ll be working on the power play, as well.
Scott Murray took over full time as our goalie coach and did a great job last year, especially with his work with Philipp Grubauer in building his game and helping Braden (Holtby) go through some ups and downs in his season and then eventually getting Braden to play his best hockey of the year when it mattered most. That will be our staff that will be joining me in addition to our two video coaches.”
It’s only a matter of time until we see how Reirden’s philosophy and culture will impact the Capitals this season. The good news for the team and Reirden is that they have been around each other for four years. Hopefully it will be a seemless transition for the coach and team. Only time will tell.
By Harrison Brown