As we near the end of the three-year contract for Head Coach Peter Laviolette, there’s an increasing chance that the Washington Capitals will be seeking a new head coach for the 2023-24 season and beyond. One of the selling points for hiring Laviolette was that he had coached the 2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes to a Stanley Cup. On top of that, he has taken three separate teams to the Stanley Cup Finals: the aforementioned Hurricanes, the Philadelphia Flyers, and the Nashville Predators.
After the failed coaching experiment with Todd Reirden, the Caps were looking to install more accountability from the players. The returns on that investment have been inconsequential, as the Caps have only won three playoff games in two seasons under Laviolette. The Caps won five under Reirden’s tutelage.
Of course, the Caps struggled with a lack of experience in net the past two playoff appearances, but you’d have to expect that General Manager Brian MacLellan and team owner Ted Leonsis were expecting a bit more, even with an imperfect roster.
Help Wanted – No Experience Necessary
In regards to the Stanley Cup winning pedigree, I dug into each Stanley Cup winner since the 2000 Stanley Cup and their coaches to see if that pedigree really matters. Here’s what I found:
Since 2000, 16 coaches of Stanley Cup winning teams won their first Cup as a head coach. Joel Quenneville (3), Darryl Sutter (2), Mike Sullivan (2), and Jon Cooper (2) have all won multiple Cups in this time frame, but hadn’t won a Cup prior to winning their first Cup in this 22 year window.
The only head coach that had a Stanley Cup win prior to winning a Cup in this 22 year window was the Hall of Fame inductee Scotty Bowman, who won his ninth overall Cup as the head coach of the 2002 Detroit Red Wings.
Does Cup Experience Matter?
This begs the question: does a Stanley Cup winning pedigree actually matter for a head coach? In my opinion, no. The quality of the roster matters much more than the historical performance of the head coach, but the team has to have the right coach to elevate the players and perform optimally, more frequently.
Another example of a coach with a Stanley Cup pedigree that’s struggled recently is Darryl Sutter, who’s currently coaching the Calgary Flames. The Flames have a very well constructed roster with talent across all the position groups. They’re currently sitting at 29-23-13 and are 4 points out of the second wild card spot in the Western Conference.
Mike Babcock struggled in Toronto after he left the Detroit Red Wings. Dan Bylsma hasn’t had a head coaching job in the NHL since 2016-17. Joel Quenneville didn’t have a ton of success in Florida before he ended up resigning last season after being implicated in the investigations of the Chicago Blackhawks completely negligent response to former video coach Brad Aldrich. Claude Julien struggled with the Montreal Canadiens after being fired by the Boston Bruins. The Canadiens went on to the Stanley Cup Final with Dominique Ducharme, who was also fired the next season.
Overall, it’s seeming less and less impactful for a coach to have a Stanley Cup win on their resume.
Where do the Caps go for head coaching candidates?
If the Caps do decide to part ways with Laviolette after the season ends, there’s a few directions they could go. One would be targeting a coach that has a better skill set for developing young players. The other would be experience working as an assistant with successful NHL teams. Here’s a few names that could make some sense for the Capitals to target as their next bench boss:
Carbery is currently serving as an assistant coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was formerly the head coach of the Hershey Bears for three seasons, so he’ll have some familiarity with the players that have been in the Caps’ system. Prior to serving as the head coach in Hershey, he served as an assistant coach, a head coach, and a director of hockey operations for the Caps’ ECHL affiliate South Carolina Stingrays.
That long history of work in player development makes him an ideal candidate for a head coach that can reach, relate to and develop young players, which is going to be a priority for the Capitals this off-season.
For a coach entering his first foray as a head coach in the NHL, it’d be important to surround him with experienced assistant coaches.
Carbery had a record of 104-50-9-8 in his three seasons as the bench boss in Hershey.
Nelson is currently the head coach for the Hershey Bears, in his first season behind the bench with the Caps’ AHL affiliate. Nelson has had a lot of experience in coaching, going back to the 2002-03 season where he was an assistant coach for Detroit’s AHL affiliate Grand Rapid Griffins. He’s served as an assistant coach in the NHL for the Atlanta Thrashers (2008-2010), an interim head coach for the Edmonton Oilers in 2014-15, and an assistant coach with the Dallas Stars (2018-2022).
Nelson has more coaching experience than Carbery at the NHL level, and more head coaching experience overall. Nelson would have more recent familiarity with the young players in the Caps’ system, which might make the connection a bit easier to manage with those players.
The Hershey Bears are 34-14-5-2 this season, good for 4th in the AHL.
This is a familiar name for Caps fans, since Halpern is a DMV native and former Caps player. Halpern has been an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Lightning since the 2018-19 season. Prior to that, he was a development coach for the 2015-16 season with Tampa’s AHL affiliate Syracuse Crunch, and then was an assistant with the Crunch from 2016-2018 before getting called up to the bigs.
Halpern resides as the power play coach and skills developer for the Lightning. The Lightning have a total power play effectiveness rate of 25% since he took up that role.
The issue with Halpern is that he has no head coaching experience at any level. This would be a pretty big leap for him into a head coaching role for a team that’s in a waning competitive window.
Allen has a long track record as a coach, going back to the 1996-97 season. He’s had a myriad of roles at the ECHL, AHL, and NHL levels. Most recently, he’s serving as an assistant coach for Peter Laviolette after being promoted to the NHL staff from his head coaching role with the Hershey Bears.
This would also be Allen’s first head coaching role in the NHL. The upside of hiring him would be his familiarity with all the players on the current roster and in Hershey. The downside is that he wouldn’t necessarily have a fresh start with the team as a head coach.
The former Caps head coach is certainly a fun name to throw in the ring. As the head coach for the Caps, he’s run some of the most lethal offensive squads the Capitals have ever had. On top of that, he helped develop the players considered to be the core of the current roster in Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and John Carlson.
Boudreau is probably the biggest name in free agent coaches with a bevy of head coaching experience. The question would be if he’s the right fit for the Capitals currently, especially with a lack of success in the playoffs, historically. He’s certainly the option with the most head coaching experience at the NHL level, with his NHL head coaching resume going back to the 2007-08 season.
Change Is Underway
The next head coach of the Capitals is going into a dire situation. The current competitive window of this core group is waning, and the Ovechkin era is nearing its final hours. Urgency to win is going to be at the forefront of the front office’s priorities, and that doesn’t include Ovechkin’s aspirations to be on a playoff-quality roster for the remainder of his career.
The Caps have some additions to make to the roster, and the next head coach will need to make the most of both veterans and young players added to the roster. A mix of experiences and strengths are going to be important in capitalizing the roster to the best possible performance.
By Justin Trudel
I don’t think it is a prerequisite, at least not if their resume is solid otherwise. Jon Cooper in Tampa being one example off the top of my head, and Boudreau was another that unfortunately never won a Cup; Brind’Amour in Carolina too. But also depends on the roster too as well. I am of the opinion the Caps need a younger coach at this point. Wouldn’t mind giving Halpern a shot if it seems like a fit.
Agreed, I don’t think the Cup pedigree is that indicative of future success. I’d prefer a coach who can develop young talent, since the Caps and MacLellan figure to make the team younger this off-season.
I say no. Give Carbery a shot. It’s about smarts, delegating to quality assistants.
Agreed, the better the staff, the better the coach performs. I think the Caps’ bench needs to be restocked with new voices at this point.
Agree to some extent. Take Joe Gibbs. He wins championships at whatever he does. Not because he’s an expert in NASCAR/Football, but because he knows how to recognize quality people, and delegates. He[so more of a project manager than an engineer and it works.
Joe Gibbs is also a workaholic, and pays attention to every detail. The stories of him in the Redskins, errrrrr, Washington Football Team’s glory days, of never leaving Redskins Park, and sleeping on a cot, are now legendary
Some people are winners, because that’s all they know how to do. The saying goes “it’s not that I want to win more than the other guy, it’s that I hate losing”
Even Scotty Bowman was a rookie coach at one time. You gotta start somewhere. I’m fine with giving a smart man his first shot
People here have said they don’t like Boudreau’s playoff record, but I still think he could be a good choice. The key with him, is has he learned from his mistakes? Had he grown as a coach? Only one way to find out. Bruce Cassidy was one of the worst coaches in Caps history. He showed up at training camp, with his notes on a cocktail napkin, made smart-ass remarks about players personal lives, and generally made every mistake he could make. And to his credit, he learned, grew and moved on, and now he’s a damn good NHL head coach. PL hasn’t grown. The game has passed him by
Agreed, it’s not always a bad thing to hire a head coach without NHL head coaching experience. As long as you put that coach in a position to succeed, then you’re likely in good shape.
Laviolette has been fine here, but the Caps need to squeeze every last drop of juice out of this group before the Ovechkin era ends. I’m not sure Lavi has delivered that.
HCPL was probably a good choice when he was hired. We were a veteran team that relied heavy on its veterans. Maybe if the injuries hadn’t destroyed any hope of a successful season this year, this discussion wouldn’t be so predetermined. Make no mistake – it was the incredible injuries that collapsed the Caps this year – not bad coaching. Still – the window is now closed. Our vets can’t make us competitive and our salary woes make a quick turnaround unlikely (no matter what is being said about “a quick reset”) Under these circumstances Peter is probably not a good choice moving forward.
Out of the two “big” candidates the off-season the Caps hired Laviolette (the other was Gerard Gallant), I personally though Lavi was the better fit. I liked the hire at the time. I don’t necessarily dislike him, but I just think the Caps need a new voice and a coach that can deliver development to younger players.
I’m not sure the window is quite slammed close at this point. A lot of it depends on that retool on-the-fly. There might need to be some cap gymnastics though.
I like development league experience, especially if as assistant or head coach he took the team to their championship. That means he made it through a season successfully and then playoffs successfully Being a head coach in the ECHL or AHL means dealing with constantly changing rosters. That is something that to me was critical this year. Maybe next no one will get injured, sick, or suspended (or have a baby). But chances are, we will have players out. Being able to adjust to the hand you’re dealt I think is better developed in the farm clubs.
But I think head coaching experience at some level is also important. We have that small Ovi window. We have a wide range in ages and experience. Assistants do a lot, but they don’t do it all, and the next Caps coach will need to do it all.
Halpern was Captain for Ovi’s first year and linemate for his first game where he broke the upright and scored two goals. Their style of play was so different Jeff asked to be moved to a different line. As Jeff says, big mistake.
Agree with all the above. You kind of have to make a bet that the roster won’t go through as much of the injury turmoil again next season. Having more young guys on the roster won’t hurt there either.
I’d take a great hockey mind who can get the most out of his staff and players over a retread coach any day. The proven ability to lead and develop is the most important qualities for the next head coach.
The last 2 times the Caps went off the reservation to hire a new, fresh face – things went poorly.
Rierden and Cassidy?
Boudreau didn’t have NHL experience when he was brought up. But plenty of minor league experience, playing and coaching
Or did you mean Oates? Forgot about him. Not sure how I could have forgot. His was almost as loony as the Cassidy era