Three years after former Capitals goaltending coach Arturs Irbe last worked in the NHL, the 47-year-old has been hired to fill the same position with the Buffalo Sabres.
Irbe will be one of many fresh faces on Ted Nolan’s staff in Buffalo, as the Sabres also announced late Monday that they have hired Bryan Trottier, Danny Flynn, and Tom Coolen as assistant coaches.
“I’m very happy with the group of talented hockey minds we were able to assemble for our coaching staff,” Nolan said in a team-issued release.
“Each one of these coaches brings an extensive and different background from the hockey world and I’m confident they will help get our team to where it needs to go this season.”
From a Capitals perspective, the Irbe hiring is the most intriguing. Irbe was the Capitals’ goaltending coach under Bruce Boudreau from 2009-11, working primarily with veteran Jose Theodore and a young trio made up of Semyon Varlamov, Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby.
At the time, none of the Capitals goaltending prospects were older than 23, and Irbe’s job in Washington seemed secure. The team was coming off back-to-back Eastern Conference regular season titles and while much of the credit went to Washington’s high octane offense, the Capitals’ finished fourth in the NHL in 2010-11 with a 2.33 goals-against-average.
After that season though, Irbe left the Capitals and returned to his native Latvia with the belief that he had a higher ceiling than just coaching one position.
“It’s very interesting and entertaining to be a goaltending coach, but it’s a thing of the past for me,” Irbe explained at the time to Latvian website sportacentrs.com, as translated by Russian Machine Never Breaks.
“Two years of that was enough for me, and I don’t see myself in that role anymore... I want to grow professionally; I want to move on…
“They thought that I would work with the Caps’ goalies for many years to come and I would be satisfied with that. But I didn’t think so. I want to set some new goals for myself.”
Irbe served as an assistant coach under Nolan with the Latvian national team at the 2013 IIHF World Hockey Championships, and was again on Nolan’s Latvian coaching staff at the 2014 Sochi Games.
In Buffalo, Irbe will reunite with Neuvirth, 26, who enjoyed the best season of his career while working with “Archie” during the 2010-11 campaign. Neuvirth produced career-highs across the board that season with a 27-12-4 record, 2.45 GAA, .914 save percentage and four shutouts.
Neuvirth, who is slated to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, is expected to compete for playing time next season with Jhonas Enroth.
Prior to his coaching career, Irbe had a 13-year NHL playing career with the San Jose Sharks, Dallas Stars, Vancouver Canucks and Carolina Hurricanes. He also represented Latvia at the 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympic Games.
The Sabres and Capitals meet twice in the preseason, beginning with the preseason opener for both teams on Sunday, Sept. 21 at 5 p.m. at Verizon Center.