ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — Next season's defending champion Washington Capitals will look a lot like the group that won the Stanley Cup last month.
They re-signed defensemen John Carlson and Michal Kempny and forward Devante Smith-Pelly and have so far only lost fourth-line center Jay Beagle and backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer from their title-winning roster.
Yet the few changes could be substantial for the Capitals, most notably new coach Todd Reirden taking over for Barry Trotz with a roster that is so similar that the expectation will be another deep playoff run.
"There's going to be many things that stay the same, but there's gonna be some things that I think I have to be cognizant of," Reirden said as he was introduced Tuesday. "I want to create an environment where players are going to continue to be challenged with new ideas and new ways to improve their games."
Based on the continuity of promoting a four-year assistant, general manager Brian MacLellan and Reirden expect this to be a "seamless transition." Set aside the awkward circumstances of Trotz's departure and the Capitals had been grooming Reirden for a head coaching job somewhere in the NHL for some time now.
Reirden was the finalist for Calgary's job two years ago and in retrospect is glad that didn't work out. His first NHL head coaching job happens to be this one, as just the fourth coach in the past 30 years to assume control of a Cup champion.
With the vast majority of the roster back, Alex Ovechkin coming off a playoff MVP performance and almost the entire defense he helped develop back to try to repeat, the pressure is on.
"Todd's at that point in his career where he's earned a head coaching job," MacLellan said. "He's put in all the work. He's got all the experience. It's just a matter of seeing him take control. I have all the faith in the world that he can accomplish it. He's just ready to do it right now."
Beagle signed a four-year, $12 million contract with the Canucks, and the Capitals traded Grubauer and defenseman Brooks Orpik to the Avalanche to clear the cap space they needed to ink Carlson to a $64 million, eight-year deal. Orpik could still return after Colorado bought him out and made him a free agent, which could mean 18 of 19 players who skated in the Cup-winning Game 5 against Vegas are on the roster to begin next season.
"It's one of those offseasons where you're not trying to make a change because you like what you have culturally," MacLellan said. "This group really seems to like playing together and there's a good chemistry there, so I think it was our decision to try to (keep) as much as we could."
That did not extend to Trotz, who wanted to be paid closer to market value for a Cup-winning coach than the automatic extension that kicked in with a small raise from his previous salary. MacLellan believes Reirden can build on what Trotz started, and the 47-year-old new Capitals coach is confident in his abilities because of how much responsibility he had the past two seasons as associate coach.
"We all had input in it in what our decisions were made," Reirden said. "I feel strongly about the direction of our team and the style that we played during the year that it wasn't necessarily just one person's idea, but it was our whole staff that had large input into how our team was going to play."
The Capitals will need one assistant coach to replace Trotz choice Lane Lambert, but will keep the rest of the staff intact. They'll look to Travis Boyd or recently signed Nic Dowd to replace Beagle. And if they can't bring back Orpik, they'll likely find a veteran defenseman to play on the third pair.
That's about all that's different when the Stanley Cup banner is raised to the rafters Oct. 3, which is no accident.
"We're always looking to improve certain areas," MacLellan said. "We always look at, 'We've got a hole here. We need to fix that.' Or, 'This is a way we can get to that next level.' We've always had that type of attitude. This year, it's trying to maintain what we had."
Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SWhyno
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