We need to start by first clearly stating that Peter Laviolette is still the head coach of the Washington Capitals, and there is at least a mathematical chance that he could sign a new deal with the team. However, all signs currently point to a parting of the ways between Laviolette and the Capitals. [Update: Laviolette was relieved of his head coaching duties on April 14]
It’s likely that Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan has already started at least an initial list of candidates, should Laviolette’s tenure with the Capitals indeed come to an end in April. Here’s a look at the candidates that could be on that list.
READY FOR A SHOT
The are a number of head coaching candidates that have worked their way up through the ranks, proving themselves each and every step along the way, but havent yet received their first shot at a head coaching gig in the NHL.
Spencer Carbery, Toronto Maple Leafs assistant coach
Spencer Carbery was a Bears head coach that was primed for a move to Washington (as we wrote about here). Carbery was named ECHL Coach of the Year (2014) and was named the AHL’s Most Outstanding coach for the 2020-21 season in May of 2021, before the Toronto Maple Leafs swooped in and hired him as an assistant coach a month and a half later.
According to ESPN, Carbery is still thought highly of in the Caps organization. Washington wanted to keep him on before he was signed by the Maple Leafs. Since Carbery took over running the power play, Toronto has the league’s second-best power play.
Todd Nelson, Hershey Bears head coach
Nelson has done a good job at the helm in Hershey, and knows the Capitals players. He has over two decades of experience in the United Hockey League, American Hockey League, and NHL. The native of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan spent the previous four seasons as an assistant coach for the NHL’s Dallas Stars.
Prior to that he spent three seasons as the head coach of the Grand Rapid Griffins in the AHL. Nelson led Grand Rapids to a Calder Cup Championship in 2017, becoming only the third person in AHL history to win the Calder Cup as a player (1994, Portland), assistant coach (2008, Chicago) and head coach, joining former Bears Bob Woods and Mike Stothers on that exclusive list. Nelson also spent time on the bench with the Edmonton Oilers.
Ryan Warsofsky, San Jose Sharks assistant coach
Warsofsky was a candidate during the Sharks’ most recent coaching hunt before they opted for David Quinn. They ended up hiring Warsofsky as an assistant coach. Warsofsky came up through the Capitals farm system, serving as coach and director of hockey operations for the ECHL’s South Carolina StingRays.
Warsofsky won two Calder Cups as a coach in the Carolina Hurricanes system. The first came as an assistant with the Charlotte Checkers. The second was as the head coach of the Chicago Wolves after the Canes switched affiliates.
Scott Allen, Washington Capitals assistant coach
Scott Allen has also climbed through the ranks of the Capitals organization. Allen joined Washington after spending the previous three seasons with the Hershey Bears. He served as an assistant coach for two seasons before being named Hershey’s head coach ahead of the 2021-22 season. Under Allen, Hershey finished with a record of 34-32-6-4, clinching a Calder Cup Playoff berth, and ranked tied for 11th in the AHL in goals against (209).
Allen took over the Capitals penalty kill this season after former assistant coach Scott Arneil decided to return home to Winnipeg last offseason. Arneil ran a top-10 penalty kill while with the Capitals, but Allen has actually improved the unit’s performance, all while dealing with a wide range of injuries.
Jeff Halpern, Tampa Bay Lightning assistant coach
Jeff Halpern is a fan favorite for many older Capitals fans. The native of Potomac, Maryland spent parts of seven seasons with the Capitals before departing for the final time following the 2011-12 season.
Halpern most recently served as an assistant coach in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization, beginning as a development coach with the Syracuse Crunch during the 2015-16 season, before moving to Tampa prior to the 2018-19 season and has attained cup-winning experience while serving as an assistant coach with the Lightning.
OTHERS READY FOR FIRST SHOT
Andrew Brunette, New Jersey Devils assistant coach
Brunette was promoted to interim head coach of the Florida Panthers last season following Joel Quenneville’s forced resignation after seven games. Brunette did well, winning the Panthers first Presidents Trophy, but was not offered the job at the end of the season.
Brunette took an assistant job in New Jersey and could be next in line to succeed 63-year-old Lindy Ruff, unless another organization scoops him first.
The consideration of “retreads” is a controversial topic. Some believe it’s the best way to go with an aging core group of players like the Capitals. They know how to handle superstars, and have very little learning curve to negotiate. Others see no reason to go down a beaten path and believe there is a ton of untapped head coaching talent just looking for a shot.
Vigneault has an extensive coaching history, most recently as the head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers from 2019-2022. Prior to that he was head coach of the New York Rangers for five seasons and the Vancouver Canucks for seven seasons.
Vignault is the prototypical “retread” but could be a fit if the Capitals are looking for a change to someone who will require little learning curve to get the team playing to it’s potential. Vignault was canned by the Flyers in December of 2021, but will receive paychecks from the organization through the end of the 2023-24 season, so it’s unclear if he is looking to get back in the head coaching game before then.
Boudreau’s been around the block with the Capitals organization and is also a fan favorite. It’s because of his history with the organization that some say he might be the good fit for the remaining Ovechkin years. There would be no learning curve with regards to the organization and it’s star players. He knows the organization.
Tippet became the head coach of the Edmonton Oilers in May of 2019. He was fired in February 2022, after the team won just seven of their previous 23 games in the 2021–22 season.
Before that he was a senior advisor to the Seattle Kraken for the 2018-19 season and head coach of the Arizona Coyotes from 2009 to 2017. He was also executive vice president of Hockey operations for Arizona from 2016 to 2017. Prior to that he was head coach of the Dallas Stars and an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Kings.
Tippet also spent time in the Capitals organization as a player from 1990 to 1992.
Green was head coach of the Vancouver Canucks from 2017 to 2022 and most recently served as a senior advisor to Team Switzerland ahead of the 2023 Karjala Cup. He was also Team Canada’s head coach for 2022-23 season.
Joel Ward, AHL Henderson Silver Knights assistant coach
Joel Ward would be an ideal addition to the Capitals bench next season. He is currently serving as an assistant coach for the Vegas Knights AHL affiliate in Henderson, Nevada, and has filled in as head coach on occasion.
Brooks Orpik, Washington Capitals player development coach
The 2018 Stanley Cup champion is already (partly) in the Capitals system, working with blueline prospects in Hershey. Orpik is the prototypical model for how to be an NHL player and would be a huge asset on the Capitals bench and in the locker room.
Developmental vs. seasoned vet?
Prior to any consideration of potential coaching candidates, Brian MacLellan and company will need to reshape the job requirements. The hiring of Laviolette met “accountability” needs and requirements at the time, and was a good hiring following Todd Reirden. But those requirements have changed.
The Capitals are a team in transition, from an aging core to a younger, less experienced roster. Maclellan will need to decide if he is looking for a developmental head coach or one that can continue wrangling the aged veterans to make a serious push for another postseason run. The ideal candidate will be able to do both.
By Jon Sorensen
No retread please. Good candidates with organizational history to choose from.
Can a rookie head coach coach Ovechkin?
No one can
That’s an interesting question. Both Trotz and Lavi have said that Ovi is very coach-able. Bruce seems to have a good relationship with him. Judging from things assistant coaches have said over the years, he likes going over stuff and trying to improve his game. Leonsis mentioned that Ovi never came to him complaining about coaching or asking for a change. I think Kuzy and integrating some of the younger players is a much bigger challenge coaching wise than Ovi and the other vets.
But the record doesn’t back that up. 9 coaches in 18 years..
How do you know that any of those coaching changes had anything to do w/Ovi?
Carbery and Warsofsky are very intriguing
Carbery all day! Considering the younger players coming through, you’d imagine his close ties to Hershey would help natural progression.
I thought Orpik was coaching a college team. Please not some old re-tread. We’re heading younger and we need new blood
You are correct. Orpik is also involved with his college team. He is doing both.
I feel Ovi wants results. If he sees results, sees teammates buying in and the system working, I think he’ll be first on board.
My criteria are: good with development players, head coaching experience at some level, NHL experience as some sort of coach, and, if possible, playoff experience at some level.
I like Jeff but he has no HC experience in any league. And what is his role in Tampa? Bolts are 3rd worst PK since the break. Their PP has been ineffective as well as they prefer to pass instead of shoot. Sound familiar?
I have nothing against Scott Allen except that he is part of Lavi’s organization. We went down the Trotz-to-Reirden road. He would have to show in his answers where he disagrees with Lavi and how he would do things differently.
Don’t know enough about Brunette and only retread I would consider would be Bruce.
Who cares about Tampa’s PK? Halpern is in charge of the PP, and has been for years, dating back to his time with the Calder Cup champion Crunch. He’s been an integral part of Cooper’s staff for years.
Their PP sucks since the All Star break.
It’s been elite for pretty much the whole time he’s been there. They’ve played in three straight Cups (short summers) and have tons of injuries. Who cares if they’re going through a bad spell? That doesn’t change his overall body of work.
For HC: Carbery. Assistant Coaches: Ward, Brunette, Orpik, Allen and Kolzig as the goalie coach. Big question: does Orpik want to be an assistant in the NHL and do all that traveling? Would Burnette come here and work under another young HC? Would Toronto let Carbery go? Would Burnette leave NJ?
If I remember correctly, when Orpik retired, he mentioned how glad he was he wouldn’t have to travel as much. Maybe he’s ready to go on the road again.
Warsofsky is the real deal. So is Carbery. Either would be awesome.
Allen or Nelson are the obvious candidates. Nelson was responsible for the Stars PP when they went to the Cup against Tampa. Allen has done wonders for the Caps’ PK. Both know the youth and will obviously inject them usefully into the lineup.
Halpern would be a great choice too, but it seems that lots of Cup winning coaches of late have come up through the system and were familiar with the players before taking over as HC.
Warsofsky with Ward and Orpik would be a dream. Or Carbs.
I like Andrew Brunette.
Head coach picks the staff. Would love a combination with Brunette, Orpik and Halpern
I think teams can sign assistants. Look at Blaine Forsythe. Todd Reirden was the same I believe.
I think it depends on the HC. Someone who’s been around a while like Trotz or Lavi is going to have at least a couple of assistants he’s going to bring along. Someone who has never been a HC is probably more open to getting help from the team in filling those positions.
A long shot…..very long shot…..might be Joel Quenneville. He’s got more baggage than a Kardashian on a weekend getaway, but he’s got 3 cups, and did play for the Caps long ago. Still, to borrow a quote, past performance does not guarantee future results. And he needs to meet with Bettman to re-enter the NHL.
I wouldn’t put anything past Leonsis, though. Not after the Oates debacle.
Joel Quenneville will never coach in North America again, not after what happened in 2010 came to light.
Need a new gm for the caps
ALRIGHT! Thanks to Jon S and NovaCapsFans, we are talking TURKEY once again!
A young eager-beaver ready to set the NHL on fire …. that’s a candidate! Most commenters want to avoid a “retread” and Prevent Defense agrees.
No reason that grizzled old veterans can’t perform for a young Buck head coach grasping for immortality! Just like the fact that many a Stanley Cup has been won by a team with a rookie or very young goaltender. When you’re hot, you’re hot!
The list above is mouth-watering to embittered Caps fans having endured five seasons of futility after the Championship season. Not to mention the 40-some years of disaster before 2018. Spencer Carbery was the phenom “that got away.” Lots of Caps fans wanted to pillory GM Mac for that event. Well here’s Mac’s chance to bring him back! Let’s steal him away from the rival Maple Leafs and hang an Ovechkin-flavored Championship around his neck
It needs to be a Bruce Boudreau 2.0, someone who will play and develop the next core of this organization that will eventually lead them to next 10-15 years of success as much as OVI Era did. Whether that be Miroschnichenko, whoever they draft this year hopefully Bedard, Michkov. McMichael, Lapierre etc.
While also retooling and being competitive for OVI last 3 years atleast and the chase for 900. Maximum maybe 1-2 additional years if he/they decide to go for 1k goals
Brunette is intriguing given that: (1) Florida was great last year, (2) Florida was not as good this year, despite having a better team, (3) Florida battled back after being down to the caps in Round 1, and (4) New Jersey made a huge jump this year. I predict he gets a job somewhere.
I thought Yzerman might scoop up Halpern last year, but he went after the other TB assistant. I wonder if GMBM has had his eye on Halpern and resolved to go after him after Yzerman passed on him. Might be cheaper than Brunette. He’s a solid choice.
I love Bruce, but there’s no way Bruce2.0 happens.
Is it possible they hire Joel Quenneville ?
I want Torts. It would be a dumpster fire but at least it would be entertaining.
Any thoughts on Allen May? I’ve been saying for years he needs that job.
Next head coach Alex Tinsley