Spencer Carbery got his start in coaching in the minors with the Washington Capitals watching closely.
They liked what they saw, and on Tuesday they brought him back to fill the job they envisioned he would get.
The Capitals hired Carbery as their next coach, ending their search for Peter Laviolette's successor by landing on a favorite of the organization who in recent years had become one of the NHL's most intriguing candidates. He now is tasked with getting Washington back in the playoffs with an aging roster and extending the organization's run of success a few more years while Alex Ovechkin chases Wayne Gretzky's goals record.
“Spencer is one of the best young coaches in the game who’s had success at every level at which he has coached,” general manager Brian MacLellan said in a statement. “We feel his leadership, communication skills, ability to develop players and familiarity with our organization will be a tremendous asset as he makes this next step in his coaching career.”
Carbery spent the past two seasons as an assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs, running the power play that ranked second in the league over that time. Before the Leafs hired him, he was considered the heir apparent to Laviolette because of his time with the Capitals' top minor league affiliate, the American Hockey League's Hershey Bears.
When Hershey VP of hockey operations Bryan Helmer was interviewing candidates for his head-coaching gig in 2018, he asked Carbery how long until he saw himself in that kind of role in the NHL. Carbery gave himself five years and nailed that projection.
“He did an incredible job for us when he was here, and I knew that he would be an NHL coach at one point down the road," Helmer told The Associated Press by phone Tuesday. “He wanted to make sure that he was ready to make that step. He went through the steps, and I think he’s ready for the NHL.”
Carbery coached Hershey for three years before getting the NHL promotion to Sheldon Keefe's staff in Toronto. At the time, there wasn't an opening for an assistant in Washington.
There is now, and Carbery at 41 usurps Keefe as the youngest coach in the league after going from a Capitals' homegrown prospect who began with their ECHL team in South Carolina to one of the hottest names on the market. He interviewed with the San Jose Sharks for their vacancy last year and multiple others this spring.
The Capitals got him back before a rival team could scoop him up. They chose Carbery from a pool of candidates that also included former captain-turned-Tampa Bay assistant Jeff Halpern, Philadelphia associate coach Brad Shaw and others with more experience.
“I would like to thank the Capitals organization for affording me the opportunity to lead this team,” Carbery said. “I look forward to working with this group of talented players and building upon the winning culture in place. I would also like to thank the Toronto Maple Leafs organization for all their support over the past two years.”
Carbery's job won't be an easy one. Five years removed from Washington winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history, the team is coming off missing the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade and could be on the verge of changes beyond coaching.
MacLellan must decide how much to shuffle the roster, but in no way is he beginning the process of rebuilding. With Ovechkin, the 2018 playoff MVP and longtime face of the franchise, about to turn 38 and sitting 73 goals away from breaking Gretzky's career record, the organization from owner Ted Leonsis down has set a goal of continuing to contend while the Russian star is under contract for three more seasons.
Helmer, who played with Ovechkin briefly in 2008-09, said Carbery's relationships with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and other Leafs stars will only help him moving forward.
"It’s going to be a great mix," Helmer said. “Spencer really stays on top of it. He expects a lot out of his players and he holds them accountable, which is a great thing. I see big things coming from Spencer and what he can do with the Caps.”