When the Capitals missed the playoffs for the first time in seven years this past season, their most advanced minor league affiliate also happened to take a step back.
The Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League missed the postseason as well, for them the first time since 2005 when the two sides formed a partnership. For much of the Capitals’ recent era of success, the Bears mirrored their parent team's winning ways. Caps owner Ted Leonsis wants to restore that.
Leonsis hopes in the current refresh of his NHL Capitals, the AHL Bears will follow suit.
“I admire the Hershey organization. When we did our rebuild after the first lockout, our move to Hershey and building Kettler Capitals Iceplex, were pillars for what we wanted to try and accomplish,” he said.
“I always thought we were at our best when we had great communications with Hershey and we taught similar systems and we could plug and play. We could bring young players up or veteran players up and the coaches were talking all the time, they know who was playing well. It felt like the last couple years, we had lost some of that synergy.”
Leonsis and the Capitals made significant changes in leadership at the NHL level, hiring Barry Trotz as their new coach and promoting Brian MacLellan as general manager. Leonsis emphasized improvements in the minor leagues when interviewing both men.
“It was very important when we were talking to Mac and when we started to talk to Barry, those were some of the questions that I was probing. What was their philosophy and how important was Hershey? I think both of them innately thought Hershey was very, very important.”
One factor Leonsis hopes will aid the progress of Hershey is Trotz’ experience in the AHL. Trotz spent seven seasons as an AHL coach in the Caps’ organization and led the Baltimore Skipjacks to a Calder Cup Championship in 1994.
“Because Barry has connective tissue to the AHL and really respects the process, that our assistants also coached in the AHL, there's an immediate kismet and respect there,” Leonsis said.
Part of that relationship, as Leonsis mentioned, deals with communication. Trotz plans to have a 48-hour rule with Bears head coach Troy Mann where they speak about the progress of their respective teams at least once every two days during the season.
“When you have an organization and I say there’s good communication horizontally and vertically in the organization, I think everybody understands the plan and buys in when you know what’s going on,” Trotz said.
“When Barry told me he was instituting the "48-hour rule," I felt good about that,” Leonsis added. “I think what I want most is mutual respect and that we have empathy for what they need to accomplish in Hershey and vice versa and that communications is key. I think we're off to a really good start."