Spencer Carbery’s inevitable departure from Maple Leafs a win for Capitals

NHL insider Elliotte Friedman joins Jeff Marek to discuss the Capitals making Maple Leafs assistant coach Spencer Carbery their next head coach, and to discuss the latest in the rest of the markets looking to fill their coaching holes.

TORONTO – The Toronto Maple Leafs’ loss is the Washington Capitals’ gain.

In an inevitable graduation from the silent assistant’s seat to a head coaching position, Spencer Carbery moved up and moved back Tuesday.

The in-demand former Maple Leafs assistant was announced as the Capitals’ 20th head coach, taking over for the fired Peter Laviolette and supplanting Toronto’s Sheldon Keefe, 42, as the youngest active bench boss in the National Hockey League.

Carbery had also interviewed for the vacant head jobs in Anaheim, Nashville and New York.

According to beat reporter Tarik El-Bashir, Carbery signed a four-year deal with Washington, which will take him one season past Alex Ovechkin’s current deal that expires in 2025-26.

“It’s a tremendous honour and privilege to be named the head coach of the Washington Capitals,” Carbery said in a release. (He will meet with local media Thursday.)

“I would like to thank the Capitals organization for affording me the opportunity to lead this team. I look forward to working with this group of talented players and building upon the winning culture in place. I would also like to thank the Toronto Maple Leafs organization for all their support over the past two years and wish them all the best in the future.”

The hiring signals a homecoming for Carbery, wife Casey and their children, Hudson and Vivian.

Now 41 years of age, the quick-rising coach made a name for himself with the Hershey Bears, Washington’s AHL affiliate. He won the Coach of the Year award in 2020-21 — after which Keefe pried him away to join the Maple Leafs in 2021-22.

Under Carbery, Toronto’s power play enjoyed a 7.3 per cent improvement that first season and shot to tops in the league (27.3 per cent).

Over the Victoria, B.C. native’s two seasons running the Maple Leafs’ PP, only the ridiculous Edmonton Oilers amassed a better power-play conversion rate (29.4 per cent) than Toronto (26.6 per cent). (The Maple Leafs’ PP did dip to 20 per cent in Carbery’s postseasons.)

“He’s connected with our best players there and really helped to put together a scheme to challenge those guys and put together the information they need,” Keefe said recently.

“He’s fit in really well with the rest of our staff. Manny Malhotra and he work really well together and then Dean Chynoweth, too. Spencer’s a tremendous coach, who works very hard — and it won’t be long until he’s answering these questions.”

Keefe knew he had dodged a bullet in the 2022 off-season, when Carbery interviewed for multiple head coaching jobs (Boston’s and San Jose’s among them, reportedly) but returned for one more run as a Leafs assistant.

“We like to think we’ve got a really good staff and good people. And as a result, there’s always the possibility that other teams are going to come calling for them,” Keefe said.

“We’re all about providing opportunities for people, yet at the same time there has been continuous change from the time I’ve taken over. I’ve had to replace one or more people every off-season.”

Recent Leafs assistants Dave Hakstol and Paul McFarland are running a successful bench in Seattle. And Leafs graduate D.J. Smith is eager to begin a fifth season running the Ottawa Senators’ room.

Carbery’s arrival in Washington reunites him a handful of players he has already coached, such as Rasmus Sandin, Martin Fehervary, Aliaksei Protas, Connor McMichael, Alex Alexeyev, and Joe Snively.

Certainly, getting an Alex Ovechkin–led power play back on track will be a key priority for the new guy.

The Capitals’ man-advantage ranked third overall as recently as 2020-21 (24.8 per cent) but tumbled to 20th overall (20 per cent) in the two seasons since.

“We are extremely pleased to name Spencer as our new head coach,” said GM Brian MacLellan, who also considered former Capital Jeff Halpern, among others.

“Spencer is one of the best young coaches in the game who’s had success at every level at which he has coached. We feel his leadership, communication skills, ability to develop players and familiarity with our organization will be a tremendous asset as he makes this next step in his coaching career.”

Yes, the coaching carousel is in full swing.

New Jersey assistant Andrew Brunette is expected to be announced as head coach of the Nashville Predators, with the Rangers, Ducks, Flames, and Blue Jackets interviewing candidates with urgency.

Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs — in search of a new GM — continue to leak talent behind the scenes, and Keefe’s own job security remains in question.

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