A little over a month after June 7, 2018 (a date which needs no explanation to the hockey faithful in the Nation’s Capital), brand new head coach Todd Rierden backfilled the position that he had recently vacated: assistant coach of the Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals. His hire? Reid Cashman, a then thirty-five year old who had just completed his second campaign as an assistant behind the Hershey Bears bench. Reirden and Cashman knew each other from their previous lives with the Penguins’ organization, Reirden having been head coach of their AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton during Cashman’s brief stint on the baby Pens’ blueline.
So how has Cashman’s first year and a half plus as an assistant up in the bigs gone? Let’s dive in.
We’re going to start by looking at all the blueliners who have skated meaningful minutes under Cashman, backdated to 2014, which was the beginning of the Barry Trotz era, and using xGA/60 as a measure of defensive effectiveness.
This isn’t a great look for Cashman. Dmitry Orlov, John Carlson, Michal Kempny, Nick Jensen, and Radko Gudas have all seen their career worst xGA/60 marks under his supervising eye. Matt Niskanen has significantly improved since leaving the fold.
It’d be easy to look at this and arrive at the conclusion that Cashman’s influence has been a negative one, but that’s not entirely fair. There are a lot of moving parts here: players aging, players recovering from injury and, most importantly, systems changes at the head coach level.
To that end, let’s check in on the Caps’ group of forwards who have gotten significant ice time under Todd Rierden’s tenure as head coach, and see if their xGA/60s have also risen.
It’s more of a mixed bag here. Generally speaking these forwards are seeing an uptick in xGA from the Trotz era to the Reirden era, which suggests that Cashman doesn’t deserve all the blame.
Forwards and defensemen are all represented in the above plot, and it’s striking to see that almost all players under Todd Reirden fall on the right side of the xGA median line. There’s no denying that when the regimes shifted, so too did the type of play on the ice.
So where do we go from here? Let's combine the components of expected goals into a percentage, and then study how that percentage has changed for each position group depending on who was coaching them.
First up, the forwards. The black dotted vertical line represents 50%.
What we see here that forwards have generally performed at a 50% xGF under Barry Trotz’s system. They have underperformed that under Todd Rierden’s system, and overperformed it when they have played somewhere that was not Washington. Here is where we remind you that xGF has not been an excellent measurement fit for the Washington Capitals, and especially their forwards.
This is a damning look for Reid Cashman. The gap between blueliner performance under him, as visualized by the orange distribution, is considerably more significant than the gap in forward performance during the same tenures. So what does it all mean?
Well for starters, this massive red blob in front of the Caps’ net is indicative of truly ghastly play in their own end, and Cashman’s troops are largely responsible for it.
The Washington Capitals are showing off some of the most dreadful defense we’ve seen in this town for many years, and our leading indicators point to the notion that the assistant coach assigned to coaching this group of players is failing to make a positive impact. There is culpability to be doled out elsewhere - to the players themselves, and to the head coach - but Todd Reirden and Brian MacLellan may want to examine whether the Reid Cashman experiment is working out.