By Ian Oland
Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan spoke to reporters hours after announcing that the team had fired second-year head coach Todd Reirden on Sunday.
In a team release, MacLellan said that the organization has “higher expectations for our team, and we felt a fresh approach in leadership was necessary.”
That fresh approach will apparently be from a coach with previous NHL head coaching experience.
“Watching our performance in the bubble in Toronto, I think we need an experienced coach,” MacLellan said. “We have an experienced group. We need someone who can come in and push some buttons on some players, some good players.
“One thing that happened for us in the bubble our structure didn’t seem to be there,” MacLellan continued. “We couldn’t find a team structure. Individuals were working hard individually, but [our] team structure was a big cause in our performance in Toronto. So we’re going to need someone that can come in and establish that as a big part of our identity. I think teams in our division — Philadelphia’s made big strides in that department, New York obviously does the same thing. We’re going to have to match that and the work ethic of those teams. We’re going to try and find the best guy that we can. Experience will be a factor and someone that can hold people accountable and work within a team concept.”
MacLellan was also bothered by a bad habit of the team “thinking we can play good when we have to play good” versus developing good habits longterm and letting games take care of themselves.
Coaches who are available and have previous head coaching experience include Mike Yeo, Peter Laviolette, Mike Babcock, Gerard Gallant, and former Capital Bruce Boudreau.
MacLellan said that there’s “no timetable” on when they might hire a new coach and no limitations on a potential price tag as long as “it makes sense,” citing the team’s spending to the cap every year.
“This is a hard decision for us,” MacLellan said. “We’re gonna sit with this for a little while.”
The Capitals GM said the team will have meetings with ownership and develop a plan moving forward on who they will interview and talk to. The process will go from there. The Capitals’ current assistant coaches will have their fate decided after the team hires a new head coach.
Reirden’s fate was sealed after the team’s poor performance in the second half of the season, from Christmas on, and its listless performance in the postseason, where it was defeated four games to one by former Capitals head coach Barry Trotz and the New York Islanders. When the Capitals flew home from the bubble, MacLellan met with a couple of players and cited “frustration throughout the organization” on how the team performed during the 2020 playoffs.
Reirden posted a 89-46-16 record and won the Metropolitan Division both seasons as head coach. He also served as head coach of the Metropolitan Division All-Stars two consecutive seasons. Before getting promoted to head coach, Reirden overlooked the team’s defense as an assistant coach.
“Great developer of defensemen,” MacLellan said. “Great defensive coach. Did a lot of work on our power play as an assistant coach. He’s done a great job for us.”
But the Capitals could not get over the hump in the postseason and looked largely overwhelmed in their consecutive first-round ousters to the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders.
“Sometimes it’s difficult for assistant coaches to take over teams they’ve been in a system with,” MacLellan said. “I think first year he did a good job. There was some stuff that we tried to work through. I think probably Christmas this year you could see the style of play deteriorate. Our team game wasn’t as good as it had been. It was going in the wrong direction. Our compete level was in and out. We had some inconsistencies. And then I think it built from there. We started to find it a little bit, but inconsistent play continued into the bubble, and we paid the price at the end.”
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