When the Caps hired Adam Oates as their head coach two summers ago, they also felt the need to hire Tim Hunter as an assistant coach. A veteran of more than 1,000 NHL games as an assistant coach, the Caps felt Hunter was an experienced hand who could provide needed guidance and experience to Oates and assistant coach Calle Johansson. Oates was a first-time head coach and Johansson a first-time assistant in the league at the time.
Flash forward two summers and the Caps now have Barry Trotz installed as their head coach. With 1,196 games worth of regular season NHL coaching experience to his credit, Trotz takes the reins with twice as much NHL experience as the 13 men who preceded him combined for at the start of their respective Washington coaching tenures.
Trotz is the most experienced NHL head coach the Caps have hired in their history, the 13th most experienced in NHL history and the fourth longest tenured among all active NHL coaches, behind only Joel Quenneville, Lindy Ruff and Ken Hitchcock.
And now Trotz has assembled a staff that is also deep and diverse, and possessing a variety of strong NHL experience. Within the last week, Washington has announced the hiring of assistant coaches Todd Reirden and Lane Lambert and goaltending coach Mitch Korn.
Holdover assistant coach Blaine Forsythe has been with Washington since the Glen Hanlon days; he will be serving under his fifth different coach in Trotz. Forsythe started out in the District as a video coach, but he has also served as a scout and an assistant coach. Under Oates, Forsythe was responsible for the power play, the best unit in the NHL in 2012-13 and second best in 2013-14. He has well-established relationships with most Capitals players.
“Blaine Forsythe will also be on the staff,” Trotz told reporters in Philadelphia over the weekend. “Because of the new hires, he’s sort of a little bit of a forgotten guy. But he was also in charge of the power play last year and they were No. 1 in the league. Him and Todd will work with the power play.
“Obviously Todd will work with the defensemen. All of the five-on-five play we will do as a staff. Todd will also work a little bit with Lane Lambert, who will be in charge of the penalty kill. We’re going to do some analytical stuff – coach’s analytics – and Blaine will help with that. He has some strength and some background in that with our video coach. On the bench, we’ll have different duties as well.”
Lambert and Reirden both have prior NHL experience as assistant coaches. Lambert is a former NHL forward who has four seasons of head coaching experience at the AHL level and two in the WHL. Lambert also spent two seasons as an assistant coach at each of those levels, and he spent the last three seasons as Trotz’s assistant in Nashville.
“First and foremost,” said Lambert, “as an assistant you want to have a guy that you’re comfortable working with, but [also] a guy that’s going to give you a lot of opportunity and Barry does that, Barry does that with his staff. And not to say that potentially it wouldn’t have been the same way in Nashville as well, but I just felt this was an opportunity to come here to come here to a team that I think has the potential for great success. The opportunity to do that was what really excited me. For me, it was a no-brainer.”
A former NHL blueliner, Reirden started his coaching career as a head coach at his alma mater, Bowling Green University, where he played under legendary coach Jerry York and was a teammate of ex-Pens coach Dan Byslma and former Caps defenseman Ken Klee. After one season at Bowling Green, Reirden became Bylsma’s assistant at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL. When Byslma was promoted to the head gig in Pittsburgh late in the 2008-09 season, Reirden took over as the head coach for the Baby Pens. He spent a season and a half in that post, then rejoined Bylsma in Pittsburgh, serving as an assistant with the Penguins in each of the last four seasons.
“I ferl like my best attribute is to be able to establish the proper foundation for each player so that they understand what’s expected of them when they go on the ice,” Reirden said in a telephone interview last last week. “One of the things I’ve had success with in the last four years is establishing and creating a plan with each of the individual players to be able to allow them to have success within their abilities.
“Everybody has a different plan and has a different role and I think that all players are created differently. And I think that our defensive group is going to play a certain way. But certainly Karl Alzner adds something different than John Carlson does to your defensive group, and that’s different from what Dmitry Orlov and Mike Green do. So I think it’s important that hey have a plan of attack for their success. All of those are different types of plans, but that’s what I really take pride in, seeing where each player is at, helping to develop a foundation for their own game and creating a plan for them to have individual success. And most importantly, creating a plan for our defensive corps to improve and get better on a daily basis.”
Veteran goaltending coach Korn was an assistant coach at Miami (Ohio) University in the 1980s before joining the Buffalo Sabres as a goaltending coach in 1991. During his seven seasons in Buffalo, Korn helped Domink Hasek to four Vezina Trophies and two Hart Trophies as the league’s MVP. Korn has been with Trotz in Nashville for each of the last 16 seasons.
“I knew that there would be a change with the goaltending [coach] situation, especially with Olie wanting to have a lesser role,” Trotz related. “And when that opportunity came I knew that the goaltending coach that I wanted was Mitch. I wanted to bring one of the guys from Nashville, and obviously I brought Lane there. And then I wanted something different for me, but also someone on the defensive side of the puck that I’ve heard through the grapevine was extremely good. And then when I went through the interview process, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted Todd to join our staff. I think both of them are capable to not only help us know but I think they are good candidates to be coaches in the National Hockey League. I wanted a strong staff and I think we assembled that.”
Video coach Brett Leonhardt rounds out the staff, returning for his third season in that post.
Trotz, Forsythe, Lambert, Reirden and Korn have combined for more than 80 seasons worth of coaching experience with 53 of those coming in the NHL.
“I like our staff,” Trotz said. “There is lots of experience. In terms of where they are as coaches, as a group, I think we’re going to have a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of knowledge that we’ll bring to the group. I think the staff is going to mesh well. I think [in terms of] personalities, everybody is going to be on the same page.”
The coaches will spend some time together this week in preparation for next week’s summer development camp at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. The time together will give the group a chance to develop some chemistry together.
We’re still a few months away from the start of training camp, but to a man, the Caps’ staff is excited about what’s ahead.
“Based on how we play,” said Lambert, “what I look forward to is the fact that I think there is a chance to play a 200-foot game with a great deal of skill and ability. And when you put those two things together, for me, that spells success. I think that’s what we’re going to see and that’s the ultimate goal here. And I think that once that all comes together, we’re going to be a team that’s hard to play against for sure.”
We’ll have more in-depth looks at each member of the coaching staff here at Dump ‘n Chase in the days and weeks ahead.