Instead of giving former Head Coach Barry Trotz a raise and extension after the 2018 Stanley Cup win, the Washington Capitals promoted Todd Reirden, a top assistant, to the head coaching position. Fast-forward two years, the Capitals lose to the New York Islanders — Trotz’s new team — in the first round of the playoffs, marking the second consecutive year the team is eliminated in the first round.
It is abundantly clear the Capitals made a mistake in promoting Reirden. He was gifted arguably one of the most talented rosters in the NHL, including Alexander Ovechkin, one of the best players in NHL history. Still, he failed to record a single playoff victory in his two years as head coach. With such high-caliber talent and such little time left to capitalize on it, a change was needed. Reirden was fired from his position, and, following a three-week search, Peter Laviolette was named the 19th head coach in Capitals’ franchise history.
Laviolette was signed to a three-year contract and brings 18 years of head coaching experience to Washington, D.C., having previously coached the New York Islanders, the Carolina Hurricanes, the Philadelphia Flyers and the Nashville Predators. The 55-year-old Laviolette has been to the Stanley Cup Finals with three different teams, winning the Cup with the Hurricanes in 2006.
Capitals Senior Vice President and General Manager Brian MacLellan commented on Laviolette’s hiring in a statement released by the team Sept. 15. “Peter is a successful NHL head coach who has won a Stanley Cup and brings a wealth of experience to our team,” MacLellan said. “We feel he is a great communicator who will motivate our players to play with passion, structure and discipline, while helping our young players reach their potential. In addition, he is a high-character individual who is highly respected for his coaching pedigree, all of which make him the ideal person to lead our team to compete for the Stanley Cup.”
Laviolette provides the one thing the Capitals need in order to raise that Cup above their heads at least one more time during the Ovechkin era: experience. While definitely talented, the players are not getting any younger, and experience is desperately needed on the team. The average age of the Capitals’ roster is 28, the sixth-highest among the 24 teams that were vying for the Cup this year. Three out of the top five leaders in points are 30 or older, as well as two out of three of their leading goal scorers.
With age comes a higher possibility of injury, fatigue and a potential loss of interest in the game, which is why most NHL players retire in their mid-30s. And not to scare anyone, but Ovechkin celebrated his 35th birthday just last week.
While age does not necessarily define how good a player is, with some skaters like Jaromír Jágr playing well into their 40s, it plays a huge factor in how long a cohesive team, such as the Capitals, will be able to play together. The Capitals are essentially the same team they were two years ago when they won the Cup, aside from a few minor trades and acquisitions. While the 2020 draft has yet to occur, it is safe to say the team is projected to look virtually the same going into next season, meaning they should still be a cohesive team.
Cohesive teams are something commonly taken for granted that really shouldn’t be. Just look at the 1995 Chicago Bulls: Michael Jordan’s so-called “Dream Team” was practically unbeatable and took home three consecutive NBA championships. While this was in part due to the amazing talent on the team, there is no way the Bulls would have been as great without the coaching of Phil Jackson.
Ovechkin’s Capitals have the potential to be Jordan’s Bulls in the talent department, and now they might have the coach. I’m not saying the Capitals are going to win three straight Stanley Cups just because they have a new, experienced coach, but I do think Laviolette will expand upon the Capitals’ potential. With Laviolette as head coach and the talent that exists on the roster, it would be disappointing to see the team eliminated from the playoffs in the first round again. While I think it’s a little early to say exactly how well the team will do, seeing as how training camp hasn’t even started yet, it is very possible to see the Capitals bring another title back to the District of Champions in the very near future.
Hayley Salvatore is a junior in the College. All Caps appears online every other week.