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Caps' MacLellan says this is the best team of the Ovechkin Era

Caps' MacLellan says this is the best team of the Ovechkin Era

Is this the best Capitals team of the Alex Ovechkin Era?

The guy who played a key role in constructing the roster believes it is.

“I think so, yeah,” General Manager Brian MacLellan said this week. “You can make an argument. To me, it is the most complete team.”

“We’ve added guys every year that have worked out,” he said. “We’ve added two defensemen [Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen], it worked out. We added two wingers [T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams], it worked out. We added a third line this year. Things have kind of evolved to a good [place] where I think we should be playing at our highest level we’ve ever played at.”

If anyone is qualified to make that statement it’s MacLellan, who has filled many roles during his 15 years with the organization. He witnessed the 2009-10 that obliterated the league to the tune of 121 standings points. He presided over last year’s team, which also finished atop the NHL standings.

But this year’s edition, in MacLellan’s estimation, feels a little different…in a positive way.

“It’s good,” he said. “The goaltending is deep. Defense is pretty good. Four good lines, scoring lines. Good [penalty kill], good power play.”

Indeed, the Caps have been the league’s most dominant team since the calendar flipped to 2017. And it hasn’t really been all that close.

They have scored more 5-on-5 goals than anyone else this season. Meanwhile, they’re allowing the fewest goals per game (2.07). Braden Holtby is making an argument for a second straight Vezina Trophy, Nicklas Backstrom is tied for fourth in points, the special teams units are clicking and they've been dominant on home ice. Meanwhile, Coach Barry Trotz has managed his top players’ minutes in an effort to ensure they are healthy and fresh for the postseason.

So, yeah, the Caps are in good shape as the stretch run begins. They sit atop the league, three points clear of the Wild in the overall standings and five points ahead of the Penguins in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division.

In fact, things have gone so well that MacLellan isn’t sure if he’ll add anything at the March 1 trade deadline.

“This year I don’t feel that pressure or that need to do anything,” MacLellan said. “We’re exploring opportunities. If something makes sense we’re going to pursue it. [But] we’re not going to mess with lines or defensive pairs. If we can upgrade on the fringes we might do it.”

Another reason MacLellan is so confident this year's group will do something no previous Capitals’ team has managed: He senses the players understand and embrace the importance of maximizing their opportunity this spring, an "urgency" that's underscored by the uncertain contract status of several key veterans.

“We’ve tried to create a sense of urgency here, even starting last year that this is it—you’ve got two years to figure it out [with] this group,” MacLellan said. “That’s not to say that going forward we’re not going to be good, but something’s got give because of the roster we have. Something’s got to fall out, and I’m not sure what it’s going to be. But it’s not going to be the same.”

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What's next for Barry Trotz?

What's next for Barry Trotz?

Barry Trotz is no longer the head coach of the Washington Capitals and, after resigning Monday afternoon, he is officially free to pursue other opportunities.

So what's next for the now former Capitals head coach?

For those who believe Trotz will simply retire, that seems unlikely. Trotz is only 55 years old.

General manager Brian MacLellan indicated the main issue in the contract negotiations between him and Trotz was term. If Trotz was, in fact, seeking a five-year contract, that doesn't sound like someone who is ready to walk away from the game.

There is only one head coaching vacancy left in the NHL, that of the New York Islanders. New President of Hockey Operations Lou Lamoriello cleaned house after getting hired and fired both general manager Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight earlier in June.

Now, suddenly, there is a Stanley Cup-winning coach on the market.

While it certainly makes sense for the Islanders to pursue Trotz, there's one big reason why Trotz, or anyone, would likely be hesitant to accept the job on Long Island and that is John Tavares.

New York's franchise player is a pending free agent and, until his contract situation is resolved, convincing anyone to take the head coaching job with the Islanders is a tough sell. If the Islanders re-sign Tavares, improve the defense and bring in a dependable starting goalie, then there is no reason to think they cannot be a playoff team.

But those are a lot of "ifs" and Tavares is a big one. If he goes, suddenly the situation on Long Island is much different. Tavares' decision could be the difference between the Islanders being a playoff team or getting a high lottery pick.

For Trotz to walk away from a team that just won the Stanley Cup to go to a New York team that may or may not have its best player back next season does not make a lot of sense.

But just because there may be only one head coaching vacancy open doesn't mean Trotz does not have any options.

The 2017-18 season saw no head coaching changes made during the season for the first time since the league expanded in 1967. Chances are jobs will begin to open up during the season especially if those teams believe they can land a Cup-winning coach as a replacement.

If you're Trotz, you just won a Stanley Cup. There is no reason to rush into another opportunity. Trotz will instantly be near or at the top of every wish list for teams in need of a head coach.

Don't just assume that Trotz will be on Long Island to start the 2018-19 season just because it is the only opportunity currently available. He can wait for the perfect opportunity to come to him.

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MacLellan: Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz

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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