ARLINGTON, Va. — When Barry Trotz resigned, the Washington Capitals didn’t even bother with a coaching search.
There was only one candidate and he got the job.
Top assistant Todd Reirden will take over the Stanley Cup-champion Capitals, promoted from the bench on Friday in a move that allows Washington to maintain a sense of continuity. Reirden coached the defencemen the past four seasons, was a finalist for another NHL head job two years ago, earned a promotion to associate coach and played a substantial role in the first championship in franchise history.
"We feel that the time is right for Todd to lead our hockey club," general manager Brian MacLellan said. "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."
MacLellan hopes promoting Reirden from within will allow the team to "transition seamlessly into next season and beyond."
Given his four-year tenure on Trotz’s staff and the league-wide view of him as a rising star in coaching, Reirden was the only one interviewed for this job. He was hired less than two weeks after Trotz resigned and eight days after the veteran Cup-winning coach joined the New York Islanders.
The 47-year-old former defenceman coached the American Hockey League’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins for parts of two seasons before serving as an NHL assistant with Pittsburgh for four years. Reirden was a finalist for the Calgary coaching job two summers ago but after losing out to since-fired Glen Gulutzan was given a raise and the associate coach title by the Capitals.
As the assistant in charge of the defence, Reirden had a hand in the development of John Carlson, Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov.
"I thought he was crucial for my career and just changed kind of a few things how I looked at the game, changed a few things with the D that I think really benefited everyone on D and made it pretty clear what he expected of us and allowed us to go out there and do the rest," Carlson said after signing a $64 million, eight-year contract to stick around.
MacLellan said last week this was Reirden’s job to lose.
"He’s got history there and he’s ready to try it as a head coach, and he’s been successful with our defencemen," he said. "I think he can handle the personalities in our room."
Reirden takes over a defending champion led by captain and playoff MVP Alex Ovechkin, who was motivated by Trotz to adapt his game at age 32. He is the first assistant to take over for a Cup-winning coach the next season since Dave Lewis replaced the retired Scotty Bowman with Detroit in 2002-03 and the first to follow a champion coach who left in a contract dispute since Colin Campbell replaced Mike Keenan with the New York Rangers in 1994-95.
Reirden describes his coaching personality as a mix of those he has worked with in the past — the honesty of Joel Quenneville and the systems skills of Todd McLellan and Todd Richards. He drew rave reviews from Capitals trade-deadline acquisition Michal Kempny, who credited Reirden for putting together an effective plan that contributed to a key part of the Cup run.
"He get my belief in myself back and I really appreciate (him) for it because when I came here I didn’t believe in myself," Kempny said.
Current and past players praise Reirden for his ability to not only strategize but communicate. As the NHL moves away from taskmasters behind the bench, Reirden fits the mould of a modern coach.
"I think he did a great job taking everybody for being different people and seeing things different ways," Carlson said. "I just think he seemed to connect with everyone’s different personalities. I think he makes you look at the game a little bit differently."
Even the forwards who didn’t deal with Reirden on a one-on-one basis got an idea about his benefits to the team.
"In the room and in practice he’s always giving little tips to everyone," winger Devante Smith-Pelly said. "I think he taught me just a lot of little things positional-wise and things like that maybe other coaches never taught me. … He did amazing job, obviously, with the defence and a big part of the whole run. So I think he’ll do a great job and definitely help us defend the Cup."