On Monday, the news broke that Barry Trotz chose to step down as head coach of the Washington Capitals. While that may come as a shock to some, due to the team’s first Stanley Cup in franchise history, it also felt somewhat inevitable due to moves made during the year prior’s summer break, as well as a tumultuous regular season.
The first inkling that Trotz might not renew or extend his contract, once it came to an end at the close of the 2017-18 season, was when the Capitals did not allow Todd Reirden to interview with other teams for a potential head coach position. It planted the seed, at least, that Reirden was next in line once Trotz was no longer with the Capitals.
Reirden focuses on coaching the Capitals defense.
According to reporting by Nick Kypreos, Reirden was up for head coaching vacancies with the Arizona Coyotes, Buffalo Sabres, and Florida Panthers last summer. However, as the Capitals had recently promoted him to associate coach, Brian MacLellan wanted to keep Reirden in the organization and declined those teams’ requests.
After losing a handful of depth players between the Capitals’ Round Two exit in the 2017 playoffs and the next season, it was expected the Presidents’ Trophy-winning team would not perform as consistently well as in previous years. The Capitals did go through several losing streaks and concerning performances. Trotz reportedly almost lost his job in mid-November.
Sportnet’s Elliotte Friedman wrote in his latest 31 Thoughts column that Trotz was one loss away from being fired, but the Capitals ripped off a long string of wins that kept him in the driver’s seat for the rest of the year.
It’s rumoured that, after ugly losses in Nashville and Colorado on Nov. 14-16, he was facing the coaching guillotine with a home defeat Nov. 18 against Minnesota, but the Capitals won 3-1, taking 11 of the next 14.
Trotz and the Capitals turned their season around in the spring, and the team found chemistry in the first round after defeating the Columbus Blue Jackets in six games. The Caps lost Games One and Two in overtime, but ripped four straight wins off to take the series. But Trotz’s job security once again became a focal point when Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman did some lip reading between the Capitals head coach and John Tortorella.
— NHL Prospects Watcher (@Prospects_Watch) April 26, 2018
“I’m gone. I’m gone. I’m not coming back. I’m gone,” Trotz appears to have said.
A reporter asked Trotz if he would clarify or confirm his remarks.
“No. I don’t… That’s John. We were talking,” Trotz said, surprised by the question. “We weren’t talking about that.”
The Capitals beat the Penguins to advance to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time in Trotz’s tenure. Then they beat the Tampa Bay Lightning and later took down the Vegas Golden Knights in five games to win the Stanley Cup.
After the raucous celebrations across the Capitol died down, Trotz and MacLellan confirmed that they were discussing the potential for the head coach’s return next season. Both said publicly that was their end goal. But as RMNB reporter Chris Gordon suggested, the possibility of losing Reirden, should a contract with Trotz be extended into the 2018-19 season, potentially threw up some “issues” in the negotiation process.
“There are a few issues we have to work on,” Trotz said, when asked whether the coaching staff would remain the same, should he take a new contract with the Capitals.
Prior to joining the Washington Capitals and focusing on the team’s defense, Reirden was an assistant with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Before that, he worked with the Penguins’ AHL affiliate. He also played 183 games in the NHL for the St. Louis Blues, Phoenix Coyotes, Atlanta Thrashers, and Edmonton Oilers.
Several of the Caps defenders in seasons past praised Reirden for his exemplary work.
“He’s ready to kind of take that next step,” former Caps defenseman Nate Schmidt said to the Washington Post. “He talks about us as players making the next step and adding to our game, and that’s kind of the thing that he does every day.”
“He’s been huge for my game, not only just teaching points with details that I could talk about all of the time, but the mental side of the game, too, building my confidence,” Matt Niskanen said. “From when I first met him until now, each year, he’s challenged me in different areas striving to get better.”
“You always know where you stand with Reirden,” former Caps dman Taylor Chorney said. “If I wasn’t playing, he would always tell me why. And if I was playing well, he would always tell me, ‘You’re doing this,’ you know what I mean? There was never that time last year where I felt like I was kind of in the unknown. I think that’s important for a player: to kind of always know where you stand, so you don’t have to sit there and wonder what’s going on.”
Reirden ran the team’s training camp with Barry Trotz gone at the World Cup prior to the start of the 2016-17 season.
GMBM, who did not hire Barry Trotz, has, for all appearances, been grooming Reirden to step up as head coach once Trotz’s contract ended. Nick Kypreos called Reirden the team’s “heir apparent.”
Now it appears Reirden’s days or weeks away from being named head coach of the Washington Capitals.
Ian Oland also contributed to this story.
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