After firing head coach Todd Reirden on Sunday morning, Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan told the media that “we need an experienced coach, [one who will] press buttons on some players.” He added that the team is “going to find the best” man for the job.
MacLellan thought that “we couldn’t find a team structure” in the Eastern Conference bubble in Toronto even though players from teams like the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders, who eliminated the Capitals in five games in the first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, did.
“[Reirden’s] done a great job with our organization. [He was a] great developer, coach for defenseman over past six years,” MacLellan said of Reirden, who was an assistant on former Capitals head coach’s Barry Trotz’s staff from 2014-2016 and an associate from 2016-2018 before getting the head coaching job.
MacLellan thought that “sometimes it’s hard” for assistants like Reirden to get promoted and adjust to the head role.
He believed the Capitals’ team play “was going in the wrong direction” since Christmas and that “inconsistent play continued into the bubble.” After a 3-1 win against the reigning Presidents’ Trophy-winners in the Tampa Bay Lightning on December 21, the Capitals went 15-14-3 and allowed an average of 3.44 goals-against per game, the most of any of the 24 teams invited to the NHL’s return-to-play plan.
MacLellan said that the fact that Reirden lost to Trotz, who resigned as Capitals’ head coach on June 18, 2018, after the two sides could not come to an agreement on a contract extension, that did not have to do with his exit. His firing was more about what was going on internally with the Capitals. “[It was] disappointing for us” that the team could not work a deal out with Trotz two years ago, he added.
“We’re a team that wants to compete for a championship every year,” MacLellan told the media. He believes that there will be a transition on defense and in goal with Braden Holtby set to become an unrestricted free agent after the season is completed. “[We] want a good blend of youth and core players and play at a high level next year,” he said.
When asked to give the fans a message, MacLellan said, “We want a championship and believe in the players we came back.” He noted that the Capitals believed in Reirden but deteriorated in play after Christmas. “Our top-six forwards should be as competitive in the league… direction has not changed,” he continued, adding that the team wants to compete at a high level.
Two years ago, the team liked the familiarity with Reirden after he was on Trotz’s staff all four years of his tenure in Washington. The group believed the two coaches shared the same language and system. The players also wanted the same structure, and MacLellan thought that “it worked for a while. I thought it was the right decision at the right time.”
After refusing to give Trotz the five-year, $25 million contract that he wanted from the Capitals two years ago, MacLellan said that “we were more than willing to pay [Trotz] fair market value.” He said that the issue in negotiations with his agent was term. After the Capitals won the Stanley Cup in 2018, a two-year, $3 million contract extension kicked in for Trotz and the team wanted him to stick to the commitment the two sides agreed on when he was named head coach in May 2014. MacLellan said that the Capitals’ ownership is “open” to pay for quality coaching now.
MacLellan said there is currently no timetable for naming the Capitals’ next coach and that the team “will sit with this for a little while.” The organization will have meetings on who to reach out to for an interview.
Will be interesting to see what direction Capitals go with their next coach.
Capitals head coaches in Alex Ovechkin era:
Glen Hanlon: 1st NHL job
Bruce Boudreau: 1st NHL job
Dale Hunter: 1st NHL job
Adam Oates: 1st NHL job
Barry Trotz: 2nd NHL job
Todd Reirden: 1st NHL job
— Tom Gulitti (@TomGulittiNHL) August 23, 2020
On the team’s approach to this offseason with a flat salary cap (will remain at $81.5 million), MacLellan said, “it’s going to be tight, hard for cap teams to [get] depth.” However, he said that the Capitals are hoping to sign at least one unrestricted free agent. For now, he will proceed with getting ready for the NHL Draft, which is scheduled to occur virtually on October 6, and wants to make the right decisions from now on.
After the Capitals got goals from only forwards Alex Ovechkin (five), Evgeny Kuznetsov (two), and T.J. Oshie (two) in the first round against the Islanders, MacLellan said “we need a lot from [our top players]. We’ve had a lot of guys underperform in the last two series. … We need to hold those guys accountable, [which] is an important standard.” He wants the team to play as a five-man unit.
MacLellan thought the sense of accountability within the locker room has to be reinstated, and there “need[s] to be consistency in our game.” He also added that he thinks the team needs to start developing better habits.
On how next season‘s team will look, MacLellan told the media that “we’re always looking” to improve roster but expects the team to have “a pretty solid lineup.” He thought that “we had inconsistency on the backend” with a lot of change and rotation throughout the season. “We have lots of good individual pieces [on defense],” but the Capitals need to put them together, MacLellan stated.
He thought it is “always important” to have a coach who develops prospects and young players.
Leading up to Reirden’s firing, MacLellan said that he met with “a couple of players,” and there was a lot of frustration about how they played in the bubble and the final 20 games they played in the regular season, which resulted in Reirden’s firing. The Capitals went 8-9-3 to end the regular season.
On Holtby’s future with the team, MacLellan said that “still [has] to be decided but will be difficult… we would like to play it out.”
MacLellan said that he has talked to captain Alex Ovechkin and defenseman Brenden Dillon’s agents during the last couple of days. He added that Dillon, who can become an unrestricted free agent this fall, will talk to his agent, and the two sides will decide about his future with the team after. Ovechkin, who can become an unrestricted free agent after next season, can sign a contract extension on the first day of free agency this offseason.
He told the media that goaltender Ilya Samsonov, who did not participate in the NHL’s return-to-play plan due to an undisclosed injury, is currently in Washington after six weeks of therapy and will be re-evaluated in two weeks. However, he did say that Samsonov is doing well and should be ready for training camp in November.
By Harrison Brown