There are few things preordained in the hockey world, but when Barry Trotz’s departure from the Washington Capitals created a vacancy behind the now-defending Stanley Cup champions’ bench, the job was considered Todd Reirden’s job to lose.
Well, lose it he has not, as the Capitals announced Friday that Reirden, 47, has officially taken the helm as the Capitals newest coach.
The announcement caps off what has already been an incredibly busy week for Washington. Since departing the draft last weekend in Dallas, at which the Capitals completed a notable deal in sending backup netminder Philipp Grubauer to the Colorado Avalanche and added seven prospects to their talent pool, Washington has come to terms on a new eight-year, $64-million contract with No. 1 defenseman John Carlson, re-upped playoff performer Devante Smith-Pelly to a one-year, $1-million pact and locked up free-agent-to-be Michal Kempny on a four-year, $10-million deal to keep the entire Cup-winning core in tact.
That Reirden has taken over behind the bench is a no-brainer for a few reasons. His work over the past few seasons with the team’s blueliners has been remarkable, and he’s had a hand in the development of not just Carlson, but Dmitry Orlov and the continued growth of veteran Matt Niskanen. Additionally, his work with Kempny was outstanding, as he took a third-pairing cast off from the Chicago Blackhawks and helped mold him into a steady top-four rearguard who played some tough minutes en route to the Stanley Cup. Reirden also has a wealth of experience and he’s been a fixture in the Washington dressing room for the past four seasons, and Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said that hiring Reirden simply made sense.
"We feel that the time is right for Todd to lead our hockey club," said MacLellan in a statement. "Based on his coaching experience, communication abilities, his approach to the game and the respect he commands in our locker room, we feel that Todd has earned this opportunity. Todd has played an integral part in helping lead our team to the Stanley Cup championship and we feel his appointment as head coach will enable our organization to transition seamlessly into next season and beyond.”
As noted by MacLellan, while this is Reirden’s first time in the top job at the NHL level, he isn’t coming into this situation as some sort of coaching neophyte. Beyond spending the past two seasons as the Capitals’ associate coach alongside Trotz and the two seasons prior to that as an assistant with the club, Reirden helped run the Penguins’ bench for four seasons from 2010-11 to 2013-14, was coach of Pittsburgh’s minor-league club, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, for 106 games across the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons and spent one season with the NCAA’s Bowling Green State University in 2007-08, his alma mater.
That job, his first in coaching, came immediately following the end of Reirden’s professional playing career, which spanned from 1994-95 with the ECHL’s Raleigh IceCaps to a 22-game stint with the Danish League’s SønderjyskE in 2006-07. A defenseman by trade, Reirden was a journeyman, but he did skate 183 games in the NHL, suiting up for the Phoenix Coyotes, Atlanta Thrashers, St. Louis Blues and Edmonton Oilers.
All that aside, Reiden steps into the top job with the unenviable task of following up a Stanley Cup victory. The good news is that he’ll again have many of the same pieces with which to work, including a few new toys at his disposal.
His top-six should remain largely the same next season, with the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov as the featured players, but the emergence of youngsters such as Jakub Vrana and Chandler Stephenson will give Reirden some additional options up front, particularly as they grow into their roles. Likewise, a bounce back season from Andre Burakovsky, who shone at times even if the numbers weren’t there, could pay big dividends up front for Reirden in his first campaign as coach.
On the blueline, too, chances are Reirden already knows exactly what he has and exactly how things will look for the Capitals. The pairings of Carlson and Kempny and Niskanen and Orlov are far from set in stone, but they give Reirden a strong top-four with which to work. Add in Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey and Reirden has himself a nice stable to coach up, with potential for one of his youngsters to earn a bigger role as the campaign carries on. And that his defenders will be shielding Braden Holtby, a Vezina Trophy winner and two-time finalist who is fresh off of a sound post-season performance, means small slips and stumbles under Reirden’s guidance early on shouldn’t be much concern. (That is unless Holtby reverts back to his regular season form, though it wouldn’t be too safe to count on that.)
None of this is to mention what the Capitals could do moving forward, be it adding up front or solidifying the blueline with a veteran presence. Because while the off-season has already been busy, from parades to draft day to taking care of their own free agent considerations, signing season is about to begin. With a minor signing here and a small tweak there, though, Reirden is going to step behind the bench of a Washington team that, while they won’t be considered the top-tier contenders, should have all the pieces in place to at least threaten as repeat champions.
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