Capitals

Keller, Jets shoot for new memories in Seattle

Keller, Jets shoot for new memories in Seattle

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) Dustin Keller vividly recalls the last time the Jets traveled to the unfriendly confines of Seattle.

He may not want to, of course. But he does nonetheless.

``It was 2008 ... and it was loud,'' Keller said. ``It snowed that day, so people were throwing snowballs at me. I was ducking a lot of them.''

The Jets could not manage any offense on Dec. 21, 2008, and lost, 13-3. The Seahawks - and their stadium and fans - had a lot to do with it.

``It was tough playing there, especially for me,'' Keller said. ``If you go into a game like this and not make any plans to handle (the noise), you could be in a load of trouble.''

OK, so CenturyLink Field might not be the best place for the Jets (3-5) to turn things around and get back in the AFC East race. But the schedule says they have to go, so they might as well be prepared. The Seahawks (5-4), who rely on the crowd and an intimidation factor second to none in the NFL, are 4-0 at home this season.

But confidence reigns - surprise, surprise - at Jets camp, as they prepare to board a flight.

``We're definitely going to the playoffs,'' defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson said, a day after defensive back Antonio Cromartie issued a similar motto. ``Make no mistake.''

Guarantees aside, New York, like most teams, has made the midweek preparations for Seattle. The loud music during practice, the whole bit. And Keller, of course, appreciates it. But he knows that he's going to watch things on his own, either way. There's only so much you can replicate.

``If I'm playing tight, it's a little easier because I'm close to the ball,'' Keller said. ``It's a little easier than playing the slot, because then I just see the ball and move when it's snapped. It's definitely a hard place to play and we have to be ready for it.''

Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold feels the same way.

``It's loud and it's a difficult place to play in,'' Mangold said. ``It's just something we have to deal with. It's the nature of the beast. If you try and change things up now, you'll get hurt. I don't think you can worry about the noise more than any other.''

Backup quarterback Tim Tebow has yet to experience Seattle and its fans, but he knows the Southeastern Conference. And it can't be as loud as some of the venues he played in as a Florida Gator.

Or is it?

``I'd have to say that LSU would have to be louder,'' Tebow said. ``I don't think anything is as loud as that. I've never been to Seattle, but college stadiums compared to the NFL is not too much in comparison, in my opinion, in terms of how loud the crowd is. I've been told that Seattle can definitely cause some problems, but we should be OK. It shouldn't be that big of an issue.''

Pro Bowl guard Brandon Moore feels like the team is ready, either way.

``The fans there are really into it and the team feeds off their energy,'' Moore said. ``It's definitely an advantage for them as a team. We just have to communicate more, be more demonstrative and be in tune with each other. We may not be able to silence then, but the key is not to get too distracted.''

It was easy to get distracted during practice this week, as coach Rex Ryan blasted in the tunes through the practice field loudspeakers. All different types of music, from all different time periods. Whatever he could find to get the job done.

``It's been helpful, having the music,'' tackle Austin Howard said. ``It's definitely loud. I don't know most of it, but it's loud. I think we'll be able to hear the calls on Sunday.''

As for the postseason talk, well, Ryan is OK with it. There's quite a bit of work ahead of the team, but at least it's thinking big, right?

``We're 3-5 and have a task in front of us,'' he said. ``It's a huge task and this is not the team we expected to have. But we're attacking things as if we're going to the playoffs. We're confident.

``Our intentions are to make the playoffs.''

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NOTES: Ryan will wear a special hat Sunday, honoring those in New York and New Jersey affected by Superstorm Sandy. ``The hat is to let people know that this organization realizes the people in our region,'' he said. ``Our thoughts and prayers are with them. If they see this hat, they'll know we're with them.'' ... Rookie DE Quinton Coples has a little bit of experience going against Seahawks starting quarterback Russell Wilson, because the two faced each other in college, Coples with North Carolina and Wilson at N.C. State. ``Last time we played him, I got two sacks. But we're good friends. I remind him of that,'' Coples said. ``He's a totally different player now than what he was in college.''

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MacLellan: Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz

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USA TODAY Sports

MacLellan: Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz

Will Todd Reirden replace Barry Trotz as head coach of the Washington Capitals?

Based on what GM Brian MacLellan said Monday, it certainly sounds like it’s Reirden’s job to lose.

“We’re going to start with Todd here,” MacLellan said. “I think we’ve been grooming him to be a head coach, whether for us or someone else.”

“We’ll see how the talk goes with him and we’ll make a decision based on that,” MacLellan added. “If it goes well, we’ll pursue Todd. And if it doesn’t, we’ll open it up a little bit.”

MacLellan said he isn’t sure exactly when the interview with Reirden will take place. The front office needs a few days to regroup. It’s also a busy stretch in hockey’s offseason. In the coming two weeks, MacLellan will direct the NHL draft in Dallas, monitor development camp in Arlington and then call the shots when free agency begins on July 1.  

“We need to take a breather here but I think Todd is a good candidate for it,” MacLellan said. “I’d like to sit down with Todd and have a normal interview, head coaching interview. I think most of our discussions are just casual. It’s about hockey in general. But I’d like to do a formal interview with him and just see if there’s differences or how we’re seeing things the same and if he’s a possibility for the head coach.”

Reirden, 46, spent the past four seasons on Trotz’s bench. He was elevated to associate coach prior to the 2016-17 season after coming up just short in his pursuit of the head coaching position in Calgary.

Reirden’s primary responsibility on Trotz’s staff was overseeing the defense and Washington’s perennially potent power play.

Prior to joining the Capitals in 2014, he was an assistant coach for four seasons with the Penguins. And before that, he spent a couple of seasons as the head coach of AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Penguins’ top minor league affiliate.

A native of Deerfield, Ill., Reirden also had a lengthy professional career that included 183 NHL games with the Oilers, Blues, Thrashers and Coyotes.

Asked what he’s looking for in the Caps’ next head coach, MacLellan said he’s looking for a forward-thinker, a strong communicator and a players’ coach.

Reirden is all of those things.

“Someone that's up to date on the modern game,” MacLellan said. “Someone that's progressive, looking to try different things. Someone that has a good relationship with players. They communicate, can teach, make players better. It's becoming a developmental league where guys are coming in not fully developed products and we need a guy that can bring young players along because more and more we're going to use young players as the higher end guys make more money.”

One of the side benefits of elevating Reirden is the fact he already has a strong relationship with many of the current players, meaning there won’t be much upheaval as the Caps look to defend their championship.

“It could be a natural transition,” MacLellan said. “But once we sit down and talk face to face about all the little small details in the team, I'll have a better feel for it.”

MacLellan said a decision on the other assistant coaches—Lane Lambert, Blaine Forsythe, Scott Murray, Brett Leonhardt and Tim Ohashi—will be made after the next head coach is named.

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Brian MacLellan explains the reasoning behind not extending Trotz before the 2017-18 season

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Brian MacLellan explains the reasoning behind not extending Trotz before the 2017-18 season

As shocking as the news of Barry Trotz’s resignation on Monday felt, it probably shouldn’t have given that whether or not he would return to Washington after the 2017-18 season was a storyline all year long.

Trotz entered the 2017-18 season on the last year of his initial four-year deal leading to speculation over whether the team was dissatisfied with his results and ready to move on from the head coach when his contract expired. Teams typically do not allow a head coach to enter the final year of a contract so that they do not appear to the players to be a lame duck coach.

Ultimately, that turned out to not be a problem as Trotz led the organization to its first Stanley Cup in his contract year. While there was interest from both sides in an extension in the wake of winning the Cup, ultimately a new deal could not be agreed upon and now the defending champs are without a head coach.

This begs the question, could things have been different had the team worked out a new contract with Trotz before the 2017-18 season? The answer is almost certainly yes, so how did things get to the point where Trotz was allowed to go into 2017-18 without an extension?

During a press conference with the media on Monday, general manager Brian MacLellan explained the team’s reasoning in not extending Trotz in the summer of 2017.

“We were struggling at the time to get over the hump,” MacLellan said. “We couldn't get over the second round and Barry hadn't been able to coach out of the second round yet either.”

In 15 seasons with the Nashville Predators, Trotz was not able to coach his team past the second round in the playoffs. In his three seasons with Washington leading up to the 2017-18 campaign, he had led the Caps to two division titles and two Presidents’ Trophies, but again could not get past the second-round hump that had plagued both him and the team.

Based on MacLellan’s comments, another early playoff exit would have likely led to the team choosing to allow Trotz's contract to expire.

“I think from the organization's perspective, some changes would've had to be made if we lost in the second round again,” MacLellan said.

But what if instead the unthinkable happened? What if the Caps forced Trotz into a “prove it” contract year and he was able to lead the team to the Stanley Cup? Didn’t they risk losing him all along?

Yes and no.

MacLellan confirmed reports on Monday that Trotz’s contract included an automatic two-year extension “at an increased rate” if he won the Cup. So while both sides were negotiating an extension, technically Trotz was already under contract through the 2019-20 season.

In the summer of 2017, MacLellan had a choice to make. At the end of the two-year championship window, he could choose to extend a head coach who had not brought the team the type of postseason success he was hoping for, he could fire a coach who had just won two consecutive division titles, two Presidents’ Trophies and whose team was eliminated in the playoffs by the eventual Stanley Cup champions, or he could ride out the final year of Trotz’s deal and, in the off chance the team won the Stanley Cup, still rest easy in the notion that Trotz would automatically remain under contract.

MacLellan went with option C. It almost worked.

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