As the page turns on the Todd Reirden era, general manager Brian MacLellan now must find the next head coach of the Washington Capitals. It is a task made difficult by the fact that that team is nearing a crossroads. There is enough talent on the roster to compete for a championship, but that window is rapidly closing. While age will one day close that window, MacLellan is concerned that an eroding team culture may be speeding along that process and he intends to find a coach who can put an end to that.
"Watching our performance in the bubble in Toronto, I think we need an experienced coach," MacLellan said. "We have an experienced group. We need someone to come in and push some buttons on some players -- some good players."
"Experience will be a factor," MacLellan added. "And somebody that can hold people accountable and work within a team concept."
When a team elects to move on from a head coach, it is typical to look for a candidate who varies wildly from the former coach and it appears that will be the case here as well.
Reirden had no NHL head coaching experience when he was hired. In terms of personality, he leaned much more towards the "player friendly" end of the spectrum. And there's nothing wrong with that, unless the culture and discipline starts to erode and clearly that is a major concern for MacLellan who said the team had an "underperformance" from some players in the past two postseasons.
"I think one thing that happened for us in the bubble is our structure didn't seem to be there," MacLellan said. "We couldn't find team structure. I know individuals were working hard individually, but as a team, a team structure resulted or was a big cause of our performance in Toronto. We're going to need someone that can come in and establish that as a big part of our identity."
There is no question the Caps have a talented roster, but there have been several points the past two seasons in which they did not perform together as a team. That was evident in the playoff series against the New York Islanders.
Washington was the better team on paper, but the Islanders played to their structure with all five players working towards the same game plan. The Caps had a handful of good individual performances, but those performances were suffocated by the team performance of the Islanders.
While responsibility for that rests largely on the players to work together as a team, sometimes it takes the strong hand of the coach to get them in line. That is something MacLellan believes the Caps were missing.
"I think consistent compete level from some guys would help our goal moving forward and I think you know those buttons do need to be pushed," MacLellan said. "We need to hold guys accountable when they don’t perform up to standards. I think it is an important part and I think just the whole inconsistent team effort. The play of units of five, not just individually would help that situation tremendously.”
MacLellan also said no decision had been made on the rest of the team's coaches as he assumed a new head coach would want input on the staff. Reid Cashman is leaving to become the head coach at Dartmouth, but the futures of Scott Arniel, Blaine Forsythe and Scott Murray have yet to be determined.
MacLellan also said he had no timetable for finding a new coach.
"This is a hard decision for us," MacLellan said. "We're going to sit with this for a little while. We'll have meeting with our personnel people and ownership and develop a plan on who we want to interview and talk to and then go from there."