Is A Rookie Head Coach The Best Fit For The Next Head Coach In Washington?

Screencap: YouTube

Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan admitted he wasn’t sure the ideal candidate for the Capitals head coaching job even existed. That’s because the requirements have changed significantly since the last time he was looking for a head coach. And those requirements are now much more complex and wide-ranging.

“I think we’re more open. Our group’s changing. We’re trying to get younger. We’ve brought in some younger players. It’s gonna be different,” said MacLellan back on the team’s breakdown day.

In simpler terms, there are a number of prime candidates to coach a veteran (aging) group and a number of candidates that are ideal for a young, developing team. Finding a coach that is a perfect fit for both categories is a completely different story.

“You want a coach that can work with young guys and we’re gonna have a veteran group at the top that kinda needs a veteran coach. So it’s going to be challenging to find the right guy for that. Probably a combination of what we’ve had would be the ideal candidate. I don’t know that we can find it, but we’ll do the best we can.”

Further complicating the situation is the current mission statement by the Capitals: There will be no “rebuild” in the final years of Ovechkin’s time in Washington. That means making moves to win games right now. Whether that’s the right strategy or not is a topic for later debate, but that’s the goal at this point in time. Return to playoffs with a realistic shot at winning another Stanley Cup in the next three years.

So saying there will be no rebuild seemingly leans the job requirements to a seasoned head coach. A coach that can hit the ground running this summer and begin preparing the team for a Stanley Cup run right away. No head coaching learning curve. That would also seem to diminish the chances for rookie head coaching candidates like Spencer Carberry and Jeff Halpern. Or does it?

Both Carbery and Halpern have been rumored to be in the mix for interviewing for the job, and both have strong player-development backgrounds. In fact, if you read the tea leaves, the rumors seem to signal MacLellan’s intentions. If you look at a majority of the candidates kicked around in the rumor mill, potential rookie head coaches are prominent and topping the list.

A rookie head coach should definitely be considered as a viable candidate for the job. The next head coach will be looked to make a run not just next year, but the next three years while Ovechkin winds down his career, and also for the seasons that follow. Winning another cup for Ovechkin should be looked at more as winning a cup in Ovechkin’s final year than focusing on winning another cup next season, and using the next two-plus years to get to that spot in year three.

Yes, the first two years might be considered wasted bullets, but your chances in year three might be a lot better than three one-year, isolated reloads. That would also enable a rookie head coach some time to acclimate, align ideal veteran assistant coaches, and for brilliant up-and-comers like Spencer Carbery, enough time to figure things out.

Selecting the right veteran head coach would not be a bad move, and in fact, might be the best move to meet immediate needs for next season. But looking at the Capitals over the next four to five years, the current need to develop younger players, there is time to allow a rookie head coach with development skills to develop himself.

By Jon Sorensen

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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42 Responses to Is A Rookie Head Coach The Best Fit For The Next Head Coach In Washington?

  1. Anonymous says:

    Agree! We will all be a lot happier and better off in 3-4 years if f we lean to developing players and coaches. The short term one year plan doesn’t work.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Try like hell to get Bruce to be an assistant to Carbery

  3. redLitYogi says:

    agreed also! If by some miracle this team will contend for another Cup while Ovie is still around, that year won’t be next year. So the focus should be on developing things to that point all while giving lip service to the notion that we’re going to win now. Ovie can ask for a promise but promises are as effective as thoughts and prayers are for preventing gun violence. We have to be real and think strategically.

  4. Jon Sorensen says:

    Somewhat related. Bruce on coaching Ovi, Backy and Green in their younger days:

  5. Jon Sorensen says:

    Greetings folks! Just a quick note, if you haven’t done so already, please consider subscribing to NoVa Caps posts in the “subscribe” box located in the upper right corner. Thank you!

  6. hockeydruid says:

    I don’t see a veteran coach taking a 1 year deal. I’m also pretty sure that Bruce would not want to be an assistant although if he were to accept and be able to be an assistant and not running the show he would be an asset. How many HC after resigning/being fired become successful assistants?

    As for a rookie HC I think that if one is hired that you have to do several things and then are allow him a learning period and a long leash and give him a long contract. Since the first 3 years will be a wash as the true focus no matter what anyone will say will be getting Ovie his record and getting younger. Then the third to the 8th year are time for him to fully implement his strategy and show what he and his players can do. So give him at least a 6 to 8 year contract. Show faith in the young coach and probably even younger team and allow them to grow and become competitive and winners. Personally I love the idea of a rookie HC such as Carbury, Allen, Halpern and Burnette. One thing that has to happen for the fans if it is a rookie head coach….PATIENCE, as you have a rookie HC and a team that will be in flux for the next 4 or 5 years before it gets a set roster as in 3-5 years there may only be 2 or 3 players that are on the roster now still there. Just take a look at the ages of the players on the roster and then think about the wanting to get younger. That is also why you give the new, young HC a 6-8 year contract.

    • Anonymous says:

      No coach is getting an 8 year contract, especially a young first time head coach when you don’t know how they’ll develop as a head coach. Where do these ideas come from?

      • hockeydruid says:

        First 3 years of the contract he has to work with what players are now on the roster not his own players as the main concern of the owner is getting a meaningless record for a player. Then it becomes a 5 years contract to show how he can rebuild this team, which is what should be happening now rather than just retooling. So look at it as he is getting a 5 year deal with 3 years to learn about the players in Hershey and have input on the draft. So 8 years is not a bad contract for a young coach having to rebuild a team. .

        • Jrlobo says:

          A “meaningless record”? By what criteria is Gretzky’s goal record meaningless. Once thought to be unbeatable. Or, is it just because you think it doesn’t meet your narrative for rebuilding or retooling? Who knows; that record may yet stand for all time!

          • hockeydruid says:

            Setting the goal for a team to help 1 player achieve and individual goal when the goal should be the playoffs and Cup is silly. Yeah people get hyped over records but if they more important than making the playoffs or winning the Cup? Records come and go and if he breaks the record someday someone will come along and make him #2. Retooling is the poor mans was of saying we are rebuilding but not going to spend any money. Not just in the NHL but across all sports I wonder how many people would rather have a record set by a player on their team or win the ultimate trophy in that sport?

  7. Hank Cohan says:

    Heaven forbid if Jeff Halpern take the Caps coaching position. It is a losing proposition, headed for disaster. Jeff is such a quality guy…he does not need the mess that is Washington. As long as the mission is to PRIMARILY get Ovie the scoring title quality coaches will stay away from the Caps coaching position, UNLESS they are offered a FIVE YEAR CONTRACT. MAKE no mistake about it, that is number 1 priority. The P/R message is to build a championship team for Ovie to get another Cup. Sheer nonsense! Look at the current signed roster, reflect on the non-moves or trades so far, and consider the limited Cap space. Caps are not and will not be a Cup contender. Leonsis is simply chasing a scoring title for Ovie. Best solution…trade Ovie to a Cup contender. Maybe make it a package deal and include Backstrom and both moves unload a pile of salary and it enables Caps to really build a,cup contending team. Otherwise, Season ticket holders…stay home and watch Ovie chase goals title on TV.

    • hockeydruid says:

      I agree with you that the primary goal of this team is to get Ovie and the bloated ego of the owner a record. That is both understandable and so so sad. This team the next 3 years will be lucky if they are above 500. Any perspective HC looking at the roster will realize that and also realize that in order to make this team competitive and thus better in 3 years there might be 2 or 3 players that are on the team not there in the locker room. As for trades: Backy, LMAO, sorry but dont see anyone wanting him or giving anything for him; as for Ovie the problem there is several, his salary, his age, and if a team takes him are the willing to give up the house to get him and, this is a big one, at his age is Ovie willing not to be the #1 guy somewhere else but maybe be on the 2nd line and PP and be happy about and will he waive his MNTC. I dont see a Cup contender taking him just to lose valuable players and picks for a player who has only 3 years left on an expensive contract.

      As for any young hire as the HC I feel you have to give him a 6-8 year deal as the first 3 are a wash and then he can play with younger players as the roster today will not exist in 3 years and you might have 2 or 3 players from this roster on it.

  8. novafyre says:

    6 year contract would mean 492 games. In Caps history, Brian Murray had 9 years, Ron Wilson had 5. Or, if you want to go by number of games, Murray 672, Wilson 410, Gabby 329, Trotz 328, Terry Murray 325.

    Currently, Cooper leads the NHL with 10 years or 797, Sullivan 589, Bednar 535, Brind’Amour 370,

    So in Caps history only 1 coach would mean that length and currently only 3 NHL coaches.

    • GRin430 says:

      Yeah, I agree: the chance of a rookie head coach getting a 6-year contract is near zero, unless Zach Leonsis wants to try his hand at NHL coaching 🙂

      • novafyre says:

        I don’t even see a veteran coach getting 6 years. Lavi only had 3. And it’s rare for a HC to go the full length of a contract these days. NHL head coaching is really a revolving door.

        To answer question of a former HC becoming an assistant, Jeff Blashill went from Detroit HC to Tampa assistant. But I don’t see Gabby becoming an assistant.

    • Anonymous says:

      Who is calling for a six-year deal? I don’t see that anywhere in post or in the comments.

      • GRin430 says:

        HockeyDruid did in a couple of comments. 6-8 years…

        • Anonymous says:

          Ah, yep. Gotcha.

        • GRin430 says:

          Note in support of HockeyDruid, that it might be cheaper to give a rookie coach a 6-8-yr contract and eat the cost after a couple of years if it ends up not working, than it would be to hire some of the retreads for 3 years at the salaries they were fired from. But I doubt the Caps will commit to any coach for that long a term, at least to start out.

          • Anonymous says:

            Agree. But could definitely see/hope for a four year deal and an extension.

            • hockeydruid says:

              Have to remember the first 3 years are going to be garbage no matter who coaches as the main goal from the owner is “Get that record!”. SO then the HC gets 5 years to do the rebuild, which should be happening now.

          • Anonymous says:

            How would that be cheaper? If the rookie HC signs an 8 year deal, gets fired after 3, then the Caps will have to pay at least two different HCs for the last 5 years of the rookie’s initial contract, including the replacement who will surely be more expensive.

    • Anonymous says:

      And those were multiple contract extensions.

  9. GRin430 says:

    The key thing with a rookie coach is that he will have to establish his credibility with the veteran core. Halpern has the resume to do that, whether he has the temperament is still TBD. Carbery appears to be a great coach, but doesn’t have the resume, at least not yet. But then again, Scotty Bowman was a rookie coach at one point…

    Todd Nelson had a long NHL career, and has followed it with a long coaching career. You look at the way the Bears play (at least most nights), and you see a well-coached, well-motivated young team. He might be the right answer at this point.

    • Eric Lord says:

      I’d take Carbery over Todd Nelson any day of the week. Nelson has done a fine job with the Bears, but there are still he areas where he absolutely refuses to make adjustments, like the decision to keep rolling out the five-forward power play unit. Carbery would’ve ditched that after a few games of struggle from that unit.

      Carbery is well known with the Caps veteran corps. He was in the organization for three years. He has also been around plenty of star power in Toronto. He knows how to deal with egos & keep players pointed at a goal.

    • Anonymous says:

      Ditto. Nelson is raising a few eye-brows in this postseason run, as far as adjustments. He’s a good coach, but I’d take Carbs in a heartbeat.

      • Anonymous says:

        I think it’s speed of adjustments for me. Charlotte through a new look in Game 3 of their series and it was eventually addressed, just not until the next game.

    • hockeydruid says:

      The Bears played the same way under Carbery and Allen. As this team actually has a 3 year grace period for the HC to learn and to get players until Ovie gets the record and retires, hiring a HC with little or no HC in the NHL experience is not bad. How about this idea: Ovie as HC for the next 3 years, a player/coach!

      • Anonymous says:

        This is the first in my 50 years of hockey hearing that a coach gets a 3 year grace period. Not even on a complete rebuild.

        • hockeydruid says:

          You are going to fire a man for taking a job for a team that is not going to the playoffs? Then how about we just make Ovie a player/coach that way when he breaks the record he can retire from both positions at the same time.

  10. novafyre says:

    Jon, can you find out and summarize just what responsibilities our favorites in this race have had as assistants? I assume none were ever goalie coaches and I think I know some assignments, but are we looking at PP coaches, PK coaches, offensive coaches, defensive coaches, development coaches, or what. What have they had responsibilities for as assistants?

    Then, second question, what do we really need? Do we want the HC to be a PP coach or would it be better to have a PP assistant?

    Last question, when it comes down to behind the bench in a game (and not a time out), what coaching do the assistants do? What do they directly tell the players? What decisions can they make? For example, can an assistant change up the PP during the game or does the HC hog that responsibility?

  11. Prevent Defense says:

    This fascinating discussion is GOOD STUFF. Thanks to NovaCapsFans for “framing it” in this way, deciding the pros and cons of a Rookie Coach

    One amazement for me is the heavy-duty negativity towards Ovechkin. “That the franchise is all hung up on an ego trip to advance Ovechkin to the all-time goals record.” We’ll come back to that.

    Rookie Coach or 30-year veteran coach? Neither has a monopoly on ability to mold a collection of players, of many ages and abilities, into a winner. All sorts of men have had magnificent NHL coaching years, including debuts, followed by abject failure. Some have been the opposite, starting out awful then achieving success. Many NHL teams through the years have had such a fabulous roster that even a dubious coach makes out great.

    Decent example is Dave Hakstol. Was essentially a “Whiz Kid” coach in college and minors. Did great things with the NODAK college team, then taking over the Philadelphia Flyers. Things didn’t go so well in four years, with an aging core, super-high expectations, and IMHO dubious GM rostering. He was shown the door after four seasons, then was yet another “Toronto Assistant” (sound familiar?) until the Seattle Kraken came knocking.

    With their billion-dollar bribe to Gory Bottmann, Seattle was handed a sweetheart roster, much like VGK. Their goalies stunk the first season, but Hakstol was the Toast of Seattle after this season and two Playoff rounds. SO: Is Hakstol a bum? Flyers fans might think so. Is he a God? Ask Seattle fans two seasons from now.

    Let’s analyze this sentiment: “The Mess that is the Caps.” I would be pleased to have a NovaCapsFans scientific survey on that idea. It’s controversial, at least I think so. Those on our site (and I love all our commenters) who hold this sentiment do so with great passion. So I ask Jon & Co. to poll the comment bunch: Are the Caps a Mess? Or perhaps better? Or even worse? Unanimity there is not!

    GM Mac has a trait that I like in his position: He has been an NHL mid-level talent. He has played for both effective and ineffective head coaches, and back when the NHL was an extremely dangerous profession. I like GM Mac’s track record for evaluating talent, both players and management. This puts me at odds with many good folks here in the comment section. But that’s why we have comments.

    I’ve gone “on record” as having great suspicion of “Whiz Kids.” But I’m just as down on long-experienced managerial types who have taken the Caps for a ride and delivered a bunch of miserable seasons, even with great talent. The upcoming Caps are already an order of magnitude more physically healthy than last season. “The Mess that Was the Caps” was strongly affected by massive injury bug. Healthy Caps are somewhere in the middle.

    Any incoming coach should be thrilled at having this roster, augmented by excellent off-season upgrades (that’s on GMBM) and Alex Ovechkin. I’ll take Ovechkin and his 42 goals in 73 games as a great, 37-year-old team Captain. Any day of the week.

  12. Jon Sorensen says:

    Ethen Frank a healthy scratch for Game 3:

    • Anonymous says:

      Smart move. Frank has looked out of place and lost in the playoffs. Yes, he has great speed and good shot. But there’s holes in his game and his skating style (speed skater) only helps when there is wide open ice or in a contest. I hope he can get it together and show something someday in Washington but……

  13. andrew777dc says:

    Reminds me of Eminem and D12, When the music stops. “Talk is cheap, …, if you really feelin’ froggish, leap”. I don’t think anyone in the organization is thinking Cup in 3 years for Ovi, at this moment. Too many moving pieces, too many key figures to decide on. Many of whom are such fan favorites and have paid so many dues that letting go of them don’t come easy. But I’m not an insider, so there’s obviously things I don’t know. I would surmise that the Caps will take a step-by-step approach, decide on some players (yeah, you know who I’m talking bout, the Kuzys and Manthas, the Shearys, the Browns and Hagses), and see where that takes us. See how it works out with the Backys and Oshs in a year, whether they’re on LTIR or not. See how a few new players we are supposed to be bringing into the top 6 establish themselves. How the new D core plays out. Whether it’s with Orly or not. Next year make a few other decisions on key players and positions, maybe bring in (or bring up) a few new people, try to gel that. See what the expectation is in two years time. And what to plan for after The Record (assuming we’re getting there by then). Would the mgmt know what kind of coach we will need by then, with the goal posts shifting all the time? Hardly. Let someone grow into the job and go with the flow? Maybe. The idea of a really LT contract for the HC is a good one, but I don’t think anyone in the NHL is mentally ready for that at the moment. Most importantly, there’s too many moving pieces, and no one knows where the team is gonna be, how its potential is gonna change in 1, 2, 3 years. And that affects the HC personality and capabilities. Speaking of personalities and to close out an already long post, I still like Brunette. 🙂 Clicking with both young and vet players, offense-minded, go-getter. Crashed out in the playoffs last year, but let’s take that as part of the learning curve and their defense-free heritage. Don’t know the Bears-related coaches well enough to say anything meaningful. Overall, maybe I’d look at someone with at least some NHL HC experience. To start with. And then see where that takes us 🙂

    • Prevent Defense says:

      Very thoughtful analysis, andrew777dc! Thanks for sharing

      Only one thing we know for sure: It won’t be a boring Caps’ offseason

    • hockeydruid says:

      Ok try this one…..Make Ovie a player/coach! That way when he retires in 3 years they can go out and get another HC to lead the rebuild. Wonder how many games Ovie would be playing 30 minutes or more?

      • andrew777dc says:

        30 minutes or more to himself, that’s a great one! 🤣👍
        And then what, Kuzy stays, Orly comes back, Backy stays (preferably on the same line and PP), Osh never goes on LTIR, etc. Yeah, a boatload of laughs we’ll be having then)) Hardee-har-har)

        • hockeydruid says:

          OK look at it this way…..Ovie is the coach and he lets himself play the last 3 minutes of each period that the Caps are behind and say it is 3 so he plays 9 minutes; then the other team commits 3 penalties and he plays all 6 minutes now we are at 15 then; he plays 5 minutes each period and you have 15 and we are up to 30 minutes. You actually see him sitting himself at the end of games or during the PP? I also see him being on the ice at the end of a game if the Caps are ahead by only 1 or 2 goals so he can try to get an empty netter. You never know what a player/coach will do or how big Ovies ego is and desire to win is!

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