Flashback to 2018. No COVID insight, Ovechkin and the Capitals have finally won their first Stanley Cup, and all is right in the world for Capital fans. Or is it? After the celebrations, head coach Barry Trotz asked for a bigger pay raise because he was one of the lower-paid coaches in the NHL. Trotz was unhappy with the general manager Brian MacLellan’s response and decided to take his talents to their division rival, the New York Islanders. Leaving former assistant coach, Todd Reirden, to fill his shoes. After 2 seasons of first-round exits with Reirden in charge, is it time to move on in D.C.?
Todd Reirden’s Background
Todd Reirden was a former hockey player turned coach. He got his start as an assistant coach at his alma mater Bowling Green State University in 2007/08. He then was hired by the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins where he worked his way up from an assistant coach to a head coach. He then got promoted to assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2010/2011. He remained there until 2014 and was not part of any of their Stanley Cup victories.
In 2014, he took a job as an assistant coach under Barry Trotz with the Washington Capitals. He was promoted to associate coach in 2016 and to head coach after Barry Trotz left for the island. The Capitals were not the same team from 2018/2019 when he took over. They traded Philipp Grubauer who was mainly their backup goalie but did win the starting position at points in 2017/2018. Capitals also lost veteran center Jay Beagle, and right-winger Alex Chiasson to free agency. They signed center Nic Dowd as a replacement for Beagle and called up Pheonix Copley to replace Grubauer.
Reirden’s Capitals still had their main core of players that won the Stanley Cup in 2017/2018. This includes Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson, T.J. Oshie, Jakub Vrana, Lars Eller, Tom Wilson, Dmitry Orlov, Matt Niskanen, and former Vezina Trophy winner, Braden Holtby. Needless to say, the Capitals were in good shape for a repeat.
They also added the speedy Carl Hagelin and defenseman Nick Jensen midseason to further bolster the team. This Capitals team played like the defending champions during the regular season finishing first in a very competitive Metropolitan division with 104 points (4th in the NHL/3rd in the East).
However, the defending champions did not last long in the playoffs. They were ousted in the first round by a young and exciting Hurricanes team in 7 games. The 7th game going to double overtime. The Capitals entered 2019/2020 with the same core of players except they traded Niskanen to the Flyers for Radko Gudas. They had a very similar season this year as they were first in the Metro when the season was suspended.
When they returned to play they were without rookie goalie Ilya Samsonov who had all but taken over the starting role from Braden Holtby. The Capitals lost their first game of the seeding games to the Lightning in a shootout. They then lost to Niskanen and the Flyers in regulation and beat the Bruins in regulation to secure a date with Barry Trotz and the Islanders. We all know what happened next. Trotz’s Islanders defeated the Capitals in 5 games.
Who Is to Blame?
The Capitals were without Nicklas Backstrom for most of the games, but overall they looked rather uninspiring and can not really blame their loss on losing Backstrom who was in the lineup for their Game 5 loss. Capitals also cannot blame their loss on Holtby who was very solid especially in games 3 and 4.
Maybe you can blame the long break before the restart, but that is where a great coach can come in. A great coach like Barry Trotz made sure his team was ready to go from the first drop of the puck. The Capitals most definitely do not lack talent. Their main core is mostly still intact and won a Stanley Cup just 2 years ago. The Capitals need a great coach to inspire them and move them forward.
Enter Gerard Gallant
Yes, the Vegas Golden Knights just fired Gerard Gallant for his slow start on a team that now looks bound for the Cup. But he also brought Vegas to the Cup just 2 years ago. Caps fans will remember this very well because Gallant and the Golden Knights were defeated by Barry Trotz and the Capitals.
Despite the loss that Vegas team defied expectations and were the first expansion team to make the Stanley Cup finals since the 67/68 St. Louis Blues. Gallant took a team full of players that teams were willing to give up to the Cup finals. On top of this, Gallant was awarded the Jack Adams award for Vegas’s performance in the regular season.
Gallant was an assistant coach most of his coaching career. He started with the Blue Jackets from 2001 to 2004 where he briefly served as an interim head coach when Douglas MacLean stepped down. He was an assistant coach on Team Canada and helped them win the 2007 World Championships. Gallant then got a job as an assistant coach under Ted Nolan with the New York Islanders from 2007-2009. He was a head coach in the QMJHL for 3 seasons where he would win 2 Championships before returning the NHL as the Montreal Canadiens assistant coach in 2012.
Gallant finally got his big break in 2014 with the Florida Panthers. The Panthers made great improvements under Gallant. They missed the playoffs in his first season but improved 25 points from the previous season. He then lead them to a franchise record 103 points first in the Atlantic Division. However, the Panthers would be bounced in the first round by the New York Islanders. Gallant when then fired the next season after a slow start. Gallant would sit out the remainder of the 2016/2017 season before being hired by the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Capitals have a great core of players, but they are not getting any younger. The Capitals need to do everything they can to win now. After 2 lackluster playoff performances, I think it is time for the Capitals to move on from Reirden. Gallant has had his postseason struggles as well, but he clearly also knows how to inspire players (2017/18).
I think Gallant would be a fantastic fit for the Capitals, but I think he might prefer the Seattle Kraken. How could he resist another chance with an expansion team? Gallant will also not come cheap and if the Capitals ownership would not give Trotz a significant raise after winning the Cup; I don’t see them offering Gallant enough to lure him in.
Since this was written the Capitals have indeed fired coach Todd Reirden.
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