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Capitals fire coach Todd Reirden after two postseason letdowns

Stephen Whyno
Associated Press

Back-to-back early playoff exits were enough to make the Washington Capitals realize they made a mistake.

In the two years since promoting top assistant Todd Reirden instead of giving Stanley Cup-winning coach Barry Trotz a raise, they’ve been knocked out of the playoffs in the first round. On Sunday, the team fired Reirden days after losing a five-game series to Trotz’s New York Islanders and moved toward hiring the seventh coach since Alex Ovechkin entered the NHL.

Todd Reirden

“We have higher expectations for our team, and we felt a fresh approach in leadership was necessary,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “Todd has been a big part of our team for more than half a decade, including our Stanley Cup run in 2018, and we wish him and his family all the best moving forward.”

Dismissing Reirden is an acknowledgement that the longtime assistant wasn’t able to make the most out of a team built to continue contending for championships with Ovechkin, centers Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov, wingers Tom Wilson and T.J. Oshie and defensemen John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov in the prime of their careers.

After Trotz coached the Capitals to their first title in franchise history in 2018, an automatic extension kicked in to keep him under contract at his current salary. NHL coaching salaries had ballooned between the times Trotz signed his contract and lifted the Cup, and the organization decided to let him go rather than pay him more.

Trotz’s Islanders have reached the second round twice in two chances since veteran general manager Lou Lamoriello hired him almost immediately after the Capitals let him resign.

Washington’s move was made in part because members of the front office saw Reirden as head coaching material after several years as an assistant there and in Pittsburgh. He was a finalist for the Calgary Flames job in 2016 and was elevated to associate coach in Washington in 2017 to keep him from pursuing other jobs.

The Reirden-coached Capitals made the playoffs in his two seasons in charge, bowed out to the Carolina Hurricanes last year and were outclassed by the Islanders this summer. It’s the first time they failed to win a playoff series in consecutive years since 2013 and 2014, which led to a full regime change.

Asked after the team was eliminated how confident he felt about continuing to coach the Capitals, Reirden referenced injuries that struck in the playoffs and said job security wasn’t something he thinks about every day.

“When you don’t come up on the winning end of it, it is disappointing and you have to look at why that has happened,” Reirden said Thursday night. “I am confident that I am a young coach that continues to improve and continues to get better and have been able to find success in the regular season and haven’t been able to find it in two completely different circumstances in the playoffs.”

Reirden, 49, was one of five first-time NHL head coaches hired in the Ovechkin era. Trotz was the only one with previous experience and the only coach to get Washington past the second round, let alone win the Cup.

Reirden is the first coach fired after hockey’s return. Eight teams made coaching changes for various reasons during the regular season.

Given that Ovechkin has one year left on his contract and several other top players are signed long term, MacLellan is likely to look for experience in his next coach. Among the top options are Cup winners Peter Laviolette and Mike Babcock, Bruce Boudreau – who coached the Capitals from 2007-2011 and has worked for two other teams since – and Gerard Gallant, who got Vegas to the final in its inaugural season before losing to Washington.