Spencer Carbery was the one who escaped.
Now, it’s just him.
From the moment the Capitals parted ways with Peter Laviolette on April 14 — one day after the team saw its eight-year playoff streak end — the organization focused its full attention on Carbery.
The 41-year-old, who has been pursued by several teams looking for a head coach, is known for owning and managing Washington, having coached the Caps’ AHL affiliate in Hershey, Pa., from 2018- 2021 and its ECHL. partner in Charleston, SC, before that.
General manager Brian MacLellan and the organization’s decision makers already knew about Carbery’s strong communication skills.
They saw, up close, his impressive track record of helping young players get better.
And they witnessed, from afar, his ability to manage the Maple Leafs’ power-packed game.
It adds up to a no-brainer decision for the Caps, who made Carbery the 20th head coach in franchise history on Tuesday. Carbery agreed to a four-year contract, according to a league source with direct knowledge of the deal who spoke on condition of anonymity.
To fully understand how Carbery and the Caps reunited, you have to rewind to 2021.
After leading the Bears to the AHL’s best record, Carbery was named coach of the year. The NHL came knocking, and he accepted a position as an assistant on Sheldon Keefe’s staff with the Maple Leafs. The Caps tried to keep Carbery, but Washington, just one year into Laviolette’s tenure, wanted him to stay in Hershey.
Carbery bet on himself and jumped headfirst into a pressure-packed NHL market.
As it turns out, it was the best decision he could have made.
Carbery quickly earned praise in NHL circles for making the Maple Leafs’ power play one of the league’s best. Before his arrival, the unit was weakened by the 20th. With him at the helm, the unit led by John Tavares, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner jumped to first and second in the last two seasons, respectively.
So, if Carbery was always the guy in Washington, why did it take six weeks to hire him? A few reasons.
First, because the Maple Leafs are still in the playoffs while the search for the Caps begins, a conversation with Carbery, according to the rules of the NHL, must wait until Toronto gets up in the second round of the Panthers.
And secondly, it’s a GREAT decision for Carbery and the Caps. Washington is under pressure to extend the final three seasons of Alex Ovechkin’s contract and end their one-year playoff drought. On the other hand, Carbery is fully aware that in the what-have-you-been-new-to-me world of NHL coaching, finding success quickly is important because second chances are not guaranteed.
So the team and the coach want to be 100 percent sure before saying, “I do.”
Washington has spoken to several candidates, including Lightning assistant and hometown hero Jeff Halpern, fellow Flyers coach Brad Shaw and others. Carbery, meanwhile, has met with the Rangers, Ducks and Predators.
After both sides did their due diligence, they went back and signed an agreement that, interestingly, extends a year beyond the expiration of Ovechkin’s current deal in 2025-26. It will not be surprising if the Caps give Carbery a fourth year to seize his services.
Carbery’s interview in Washington, which took place last week, may seem like a reunion.
Having coached the Bears and Stingrays, he’s already on a first name basis with all the Caps honchos.
From an X’s and O’s perspective, he already knows the strengths and weaknesses of almost every key player on the veteran roster since he worked training camps and preseason games in DC with Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom , Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson, TJ Oshie, Tom Wilson , and others.
Naturally, one of Carbery’s first – and biggest – tasks will be to restore the Caps’ once-powerful point. Last season it ranked 16th – an underachievement given its wealth of weapons.
Just as importantly, Carbery also coached players who recently graduated from the Caps, such as defensemen Martin Fehervary and Alex Alexeyev and forward Aliaksei Protas, as well as prospect Connor McMichael, who the team hopes able to make the jump from the minors to the NHL roster this fall.
Next up for Carbery and Caps is fleshing out his staff.
With Laviolette out, so is Kevin McCarthy, Laviolette’s longtime lieutenant. Assistant Blaine Forsythe, the former architect of the power play, also left after 17 seasons, ending a tenure that spanned six head coaches.
Carbery will succeed Scott Allen, who led Washington’s penalty kill, and Scott Murray, who coached the goaltenders. Allen was an assistant on Carbery’s staff at Hershey before ascending to the top spot as Carbery’s replacement so, again, there are some who know.
That means Carbery will have to add a couple of assistants: a coach to lead the blue line and a coach to work on the power play. Carbery, of course, has a big say in the unit led by Ovechkin, but head coaches often delegate special teams duties to assistants. Carbery’s selections are expected to be made in conjunction with MacLellan, according to a league source.
In the immediate aftermath of Laviolette’s departure, MacLellan was asked if finding the next coach felt like threading a needle because of the team’s desire to win while at the same time weaving in some youth. player in the lineup.
He agreed, saying, “Yes. We want to end a couple of careers of important players in our organization and we want to stay competitive. We also want to be younger. It’s a challenge… but we’ll try. “
That challenge now belongs to Carbery, a man who feels he has been preparing for the job for the past two years.
(Photo: Kevin Sousa / NHLI via Getty Images)