Five years since the Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup victory. Zero playoff series won since. Two head coaches, one internal promotion, and an experienced outsider since becoming champions didn’t pan out. And with one of the oldest cores in the NHL, combined with the rest of the league outpacing the Capitals with players Washington traded away to load up from previous postseason campaigns, the franchise is in a tricky spot as a complete overhaul isn’t possible. The biggest crossover storyline in hockey will be in the nation’s capital until Alex Ovechkin retires or passes Wayne Gretzky on the all-time goal-scoring list. The Great One’s at 894 and Ovie’s at 822. It took Caps’ captain 122 games to go from 750 goals to his current mark, or about 0.6 goals per game. Balancing the great chase and the team’s overall resurgence at once will need a master juggler.
If only there was a Potomac, Maryland native who spent seven seasons playing for the Capitals and has been an assistant coach for the NHL’s model franchise for the last five years out there. Of course, I’m being facetious, Jeff Halpern is the DMV insider that would keep the Capitals’ fan base engaged with his hire. Halpern was linked with the job, beyond fan fiction, when analyst Pierre LeBrun reported the Capitals planned to interview him as part of the process to hire their next head coach. He’s got the chops from behind the bench and if you want to pick on Halpern’s lack of head-coaching experience to why Ted Leonsis shouldn’t hire him, fine, but find me a candidate that would come to The District that isn’t a little flawed. The Capitals are a much bigger work in progress to become an elite franchise again than many who rock the red want to believe.
Halpern has already been a part of the organization
Halpern has also been Ovechkin’s teammate at two different points in his career, as the promising rookie right after the NHL lockout in 2004-05 and again in 2011-12 when Ovechkin was the best player in the league.
Halpern’s been through adversity with Ovechkin as the captain of the Capitals. He’s been in those locker rooms. Who’s better suited to help guide the aging superstar, who’ll be 38 the next time he plays in an NHL game, than someone who has already played beside him? Washington is Ovechkin’s team regardless of who is at the helm. Why take a path of resistance when someone who knows how to specifically coach the soon-to-be-greatest goal-scorer of all time is out there?
Washington will do their due diligence and interview a bunch of candidates. Whoever they bring in will be more of a chapter starter than the last three hires. Barry Trotz was brought in to capitalize on Ovechkin before he turned 35, which he did and then promptly left. Todd Reirden was in the right place at the right time and proved to not be ready to coach an NHL team and Peter Laviolette’s system didn’t work no matter how many injuries the Capitals had this season. And hiring someone who the franchise would have more patience with is key. Then how better than a sweetheart hire of Halpern?
Halpern was the first Capital to ever hail from the D.C. area and purely trying to honor the team’s history isn’t part of the reason he’s such a strong candidate. Washington has done that in the past with Adam Oates and Dale Hunter, and couldn’t get past the second round of the playoffs. Times are different now with the unique set of circumstances surrounding the team. And the credentials of either of those men would make a ton of sense now. Who’s the most like them? Jeff Halpern.