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Carlson wants Capitals to hire Reirden as coach

Assistant 'was crucial for my career,' says defenseman who signed contract to stay in Washington

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Now that John Carlson knows he'll be back with the Washington Capitals after signing an eight-year, $64 million contract (average annual value $8 million) Sunday, there are two more things he'd like to see.

One is for his defense partner, Michal Kempny, who can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, to be signed by Washington.


[RELATED: Carlson signs eight-year contract with Capitals | Carlson contract may begin busy stretch for Capitals]


The other is for associate coach Todd Reirden to be promoted to succeed Barry Trotz as Capitals coach. Trotz resigned a week ago and was hired by the New York Islanders on Thursday.

General manager Brian MacLellan said Thursday he planned to sit down with Reirden for a formal interview this week, and Reirden, who turned 47 on Monday, is essentially the only candidate at this time. 

Carlson would approve if he ends up getting the job.

"Yeah, I think that would be a lot easier of a transition," Carlson said Monday. "But that's not my call to make."

Reirden's primary responsibilities working under Trotz the past four seasons were to oversee the defense and the power play, so he has worked closely with Carlson. The 28-year-old credited Trotz and Reirden with helping him improve as a player, but because he dealt more directly with Reirden, there was a different level of communication there.

"I thought he was crucial for my career," Carlson said, "and just changed kind of a few things how I looked at the game, changed a few things with the D that I think really benefited everyone on D and made it pretty clear what he expected of us and allowed us to go out there and do the rest."

It paid off for Carlson this season, when he led NHL defensemen with a career-high 68 points, including career highs with 15 goals and 53 assists. That included 32 points (four goals, 28 assists) on the power play.

Carlson continued to produce in the Stanley Cup Playoffs when he led NHL defensemen and set a Capitals record with 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) to help Washington win the Cup for the first time in its 43-season history.

Video: VGK@WSH, Gm4: Carlson blasts one-timer for PPG

The timing was perfect for Carlson, who would have become an unrestricted free agent July 1. He said his approach won't change now that he'll be paid like one of the best defensemen in the NHL. 

"I want to be the best defenseman in the League every single year," he said. "I'm sure I'll get more questions about it now, but from my preparation and mental side of the game, I think, I have a pretty good plan going into everything. Everyone's different in the ways that they do that. I think what I'll focus on is just helping this team win."

Carlson made no secret his preference was to re-sign with the Capitals. He lives in the Washington area in the offseason and considers it his home. He'll have his day with the Stanley Cup here July 4.

After the Capitals cleared some NHL salary cap space by trading defenseman Brooks Orpik, whose contract carried a $5.5 million salary cap charge, and goaltender Philipp Grubauer to the Colorado Avalanche for the No. 47 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft on Friday, it took a couple of days to hammer out the remaining details on Carlson's contract.

"I love the city," Carlson said. "I love being around here. It's my home. It was pretty easy for me to want to say. That part was the easiest, I think. I'm just glad to be here."

Carlson hopes Kempny will be back, too. The 27-year-old fit in seamlessly as Carlson's defense partner after being acquired in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks on Feb. 19. 

After getting seven points (one goal, six assists) in 31 games with Chicago prior to the trade, he had three points (one goal, two assists) in 22 regular-season games and five points (two goals, three assists) in 24 postseason games with Washington.

"I thought he was a great player," Carlson said. "He made a huge impact on our team. When he got here, I thought we kind of started to play our best hockey maybe 10, 15 games after he got here, and then I thought he played awesome in the playoffs. He's a great player, a great defender and he can skate. 

"So that's pretty much textbook what you want to have on your team. And certainly, I think we play well together."

Kempny is another defenseman who thrived under Reirden's tutelage. Carlson said if Reirden becomes coach, it would be a popular decision in the Capitals' locker room.  

"Guys have a lot of respect for Todd," Carlson said. "And if that's the case, then he's going to do a great job."

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