The Washington Capitals rolled out a party bus for Spencer Carbery as the first-time NHL head coach gave his introductory press conference on Thursday.
Carbery, along with his wife, Casey, and two children, Hudson (11) and Vivian (9), were greeted by a chorus of cheering Caps fans as they arrived to District E.
A warm welcome for the Carbery Family! pic.twitter.com/TfBgmp0HOc
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) June 1, 2023
General manager Brian MacLellan joined Carbery for the conference, while longtime Caps play-by-play man Joe Beninati introduced the pair to the assembled media.
MacLellan’s hire of Carbery signals a reversal from his priorities in 2020, when a desire for an experienced head coach led to GMBM signing Peter Laviolette. Carbery has never led an NHL team, only entering the league as an assistant coach in 2021. The move signals a culture shift in the organization that will impact the development of players and how they are integrated into the NHL lineup.
That change in focus comes after the Caps missed the playoffs and had their worst full 82-game season in 16 years.
Both MacLellan and Carbery were asked about balancing coaching for the Capitals’ very veteran core while also making sure enough youth is mixed into the lineup — all while ensuring that the team will stay successful in the process.
“I think Spencer’s experience in Toronto dealing with established, highly-skilled players and running a high end power play – that level of relationship, that level of communication – I think it’s a skill he’s learned over the last two years,” MacLellan said.
“I think it’s applicable to what’s going on with us. We’ll have the same type of players. He’s a blend of having a strong background in development and being able to coach high end players too. It’s a good fit.”
MacLellan would later directly connect developing young players with adding an inexperienced new coach. “It’s the same on the personnel side,” MacLellan said. “We’re looking to add younger players. We have an opportunity to get one of the better young coaches in the game. I think it’s going to permeate throughout our organization. We’re in a transition period here and we’re trying to make the best of it and see where it goes from here.”
MacLellan already kicked off that transition period at the trade deadline last spring. Instead of adding even more veterans to try and make a desperate lunge at a playoff position, he turned the Caps into sellers by adding draft capital and the 23-year-old Rasmus Sandin in exchange for several of those Capitals veterans.
Carbery echoed some of MacLellan’s thoughts and says he’s ready for the challenge of dealing with a mixed-age group. “I think that there’s a mix,” Carbery said. We have a highly motivated group of veteran players and we have also have a group of young players. It’s my job to bring along [those young players] and integrate them into that group. That, to me, is exciting.
“You have young players that are hungry to prove that they’re capable NHL players and then you’ve got a group of veteran players ready to prove that we are still a very strong team in the NHL. Experiencing that in lower leagues, that’s the mixer. That’s what I’m trying to bring together and make sure that we compete at a real high level.”
He added that he will lean on the Caps’ veteran core to help shoulder some of the responsibility of developing their younger peers. “It’s our job as a coaching staff to come in and help these young players get caught up to speed as quickly as possible but it’s also the responsibility of our leadership group,” he continued. “They have a big part in how can we get these young players ready to play and playing in a winning culture. I will specifically lean on our leadership and challenge them to do a good job in that department.”
As a member of the Capitals’ organization for almost a decade as a coach, Carbery has plenty of experience with a lot of the young players he’ll be coaching. Those prior relationships built with players like Connor McMichael, Aliaksei Protas, Beck Malenstyn, and more should make their transitions to the NHL smoother.
Overall, Carbery has spent time in the past with 14 players in the Capitals organization who will be fighting for roster spots come next fall.
“I’m excited to work with them again,” Carbery said. “I’ve got great relationships with all those young players and I’m watching some of them play down in Hershey right now and try to compete for a Calder Cup. It puts a smile on my face because I’m really happy with where their journey and their development. Those relationships will help speed up the process of getting to know them and them understanding what I expect.
“It’s really important that we’re able to develop through the organization and hopefully create those tiers of where guys are able to come up and play for the Washington Capitals and contribute,” he added. “That was always what I did in Hershey. Them moving up and us developing players that can step into the lineup is critical.”
Carbery will have plenty of familiar faces behind his bench as well. He will be joined in the Capitals’ coaching room by Scott Allen and Emily Engel-Natzke, both of whom worked under Carbery in Hershey and will stay on after Laviolette’s departure.
Beyond a larger focus on development, Carbery has two words for how he wants his Caps team to play: “pace” and “connected”. He delved a little bit into the specifics behind those buzzwords, but kept the true inside baseball aspects of the system to himself.
“A lot of people equate pace with speed but for me pace is a little bit different than just players that can skate fast and playing quick,” he said. “Pace, for me, you can show with the puck and without. Our puck pressure, our neutral zone, our D-zone puck pressure, our forecheck. We will talk constantly about our pace and playing at a higher pace.
“The other part, I think it’s important that we have five guys on the ice that are on the same page with what we’re doing. We’ve got to be really connected as we move up the ice. Won’t get into all the Xs and Os but the connected term is something that I’ll use a lot with our group. Making sure that five guys are on the same page with how the puck is going to transport from our end to the other end or vice versa.”
Once Carbery fills out the rest of his staff, it’ll soon be go time for the rookie bench boss.
“Beyond excited to roll my sleeves up and get to work for this organization, this community, this fanbase, and our players,” Carbery said. “I’m going to put everything I’ve got into this organization and the community. I’m going to do everything I possibly can to make this team a group on the ice that we can be proud of.”
Screenshot via @Capitals/Twitter
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