Word of the Capitals’ first significant personnel move of the offseason arrived yesterday: assistant coach Jay Leach, with the club for five seasons, won’t be returning in 2009-10. Leach coached the team’s defensemen. It’s pointless to speculate on the rationale for the change — all that General Manager George McPhee would offer yesterday was that the decision was “mutual.”
But Leach’s departure arrives not two weeks removed from the conclusion of a tumultuous spring for the team’s blueliners. Mike Green, a Norris Trophy finalist, while playing injured, was indisputably and inexplicably horrendous for much of the postseason. Jeff Schultz seemed to regress in the second half of the season. Milan Jurcina, conversely, seemed to play his best hockey to date in D.C. against the Rangers and Penguins, and John Erskine’s fledgling NHL career positively catapulted under Leach’s mentoring. So the Leach track record with the organization’s blueline personnel seems to have had its hits and misses.
From this blogger’s vantage there is an imperative of the moment for the management of the Capitals’ blueline: to the extent that Bruce Boudreau replaces Leach with an assistant tasked with running the defense as Leach did, that individual will guide the most talented core of rearguard talent since this team’s Pentagon-on-skates corps of the mid-1980s. He will also be expected to improve what collectively is widely perceived to be the Caps’ Achilles heel.
Specifically, the new coach will be expected to mold three elite talents — Mike Green, Karl Alzner, and John Carlson — into steady and reliable NHL difference-makers. The Caps’ hopes of bettering their standing against Pittsburgh in the years ahead depends upon it. All three young defensemen may not be in Caps’ sweaters come opening night next fall, but they are the elite talent around which the team’s contending blueline will be assembled.
The Caps had Randy Carlyle as an assistant for only two seasons, from 2002-2004. He rightly moved on to a higher calling. A former Norris trophy winner with a long, prosperous NHL career would seem to be the ideal candidate to guide the gifted young Caps’ defenders. Is such a candidate available?
A lot of Caps’ fans might instinctively offer up the name Rod Langway as an option, but Rod hasn’t been involved in coaching in years. .
The timing of yesterday’s news was interesting insomuch as I learned yesterday afternoon of a distinguished coaching award bestowed upon my favorite Capitals’ alum, Kevin Kaminski. Killer won the Central Hockey League’s Coach of the Year award for the 2008-09 campaign, having guided his brand new team, the Mississippi Riverkings, to a stellar 44-17-3 record. He hasn’t been coaching all that long, but he’s won every year he’s led a team behind the bench, and now that he’s being lauded as the best in his circuit, you gotta figure it’s only a matter of time before he breaks through in either the American or National League.
I think it’s a terrific thing when Caps’ alum stay in the game as coaches and distinguish themselves as Killer has.
I also learned yesterday of the impending arrival of the first-ever Killer Kaminski bobblehead! It lacks, Megan Kaminski told me, any evidence of the 600 facial stitches her husband earned in his hockey career. But these keepsakes have to be mass-produced, right, and the objective with them certainly isn’t to frighten small children. I may customize mine by backing the Jeep over the bobblehead a few times, for verisimilitude.