Caps News: New Goalie Coach and Other Tidbits

August 13, 2009 | Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals have announced today that they have a new goalie coach. Here is the press release from the Caps outstanding Media Relations staff:

The Washington Capitals have hired Arturs Irbe as the organization’s goaltending coach, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today. Irbe replaces Dave Prior, who recently resigned after 12 years with the club to spend more time with his family.
Irbe, 42, is a native of Riga, Latvia, and served as the goaltending coach for his hometown Dinamo Riga last season in the Kontinental Hockey League. He has also worked with the Latvian national team, which he represented in the 2002 and 2006 Olympics. Irbe is also a former teammate of Capitals’ assistant coach Dean Evason, as both players were with the San Jose Sharks from 1991-93.
Irbe native is a 13-year NHL veteran and played for San Jose, Dallas, Vancouver and Carolina. He played in 568 games and compiled a career record of 218-236-79 while appearing in two NHL All-Star Games (1994, 1999). His last NHL season was 2003-04, and he finished his NHL career with a 2.83 goals-against average and an .899 save percentage. Irbe played professionally in Europe after he left the NHL and retired completely after appearing in six games with Slovakia’s HK Nitra in 2006-07.
Irbe is fluent in English, Latvian, Russian and also speaks some German. He was selected in the 10th round, 196th overall, in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft by the Minnesota North Stars. He spent five years in the San Jose organization and made his NHL debut in the 1991-92 season when he appeared in 13 games. Irbe played in 74 games for the Sharks during 1993-94 and set an NHL record (since broken) by playing 4,412 minutes in the regular season. He spent the 1996-97 season with Dallas and the 1997-98 season with Vancouver before joining Carolina for the final six years of his career.
Irbe became a fixture in the Carolina net and played more than 50 games in each of his first four seasons with the Hurricanes. He registered career-best marks in GAA (2.22) and in save percentage (.923) during the 1998-99 season, his first with Carolina. He played a career high 77 games during the 2000-01 season and a year later he helped lead Carolina to the Stanley Cup final. 

COMMENT: Some might say the handwriting was on the wall that this change was likely coming when Prior went public with comments that it was not his preference to switch from Jose Theodore to Semyon Varlamov after game 1 of the Rangers playoff series this past spring. Clearly the Varlamov switch, orchestrated by Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau after consultation with GM George McPhee, was the right move. Prior and former Caps goalie Olie Kolzig were very close and Kolzig relied on him heavily during his time in Washington blossoming into one of the best goalies in the NHL. Prior served the Caps well and according to Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post he had input into drafting Varlamov and young goalie Michal Neuvirth (helped Hershey win the AHL Calder Cup this past spring).  Irbe speaks Russian and with Varlamov the clear favorite to take over as long term #1 goalie of this team he will need someone he is comfortable with and can communicate with easily. However, in the short term, Boudreau said this morning that Theodore is still the #1 guy heading into training camp.

It has been a relatively quiet summer for the Caps since my last blog in mid-July but here is a summary of Caps news since then:

Defenseman Milan Jurcina, who really improved last season, has gone through arbitration and the Caps have him back in the fold.

We’ve also heard recently that defensman Brian Pothier feels like he will have a good season because he can finally get himself in shape in the off-season after dealing with concussion related issues last summer.

In addition, defenseman Karl Alzner, who spent 30 games with the Caps last season, had nice things to say about fellow young defenseman John Carlson and admitted that he will have to work hard to make the team out of training camp this year with Carlson, Pothier, Jurcina, John Erskine, Mike Green, Tom Poti, Jeff Schultz, and Shaone Morrisonn all in the fold on defense. The good news for Karl is that the salary cap situation is a little better for the Caps this season. It will be interesting to see if McPhee can move one of the other defenseman to make more room for Alzner and possibly Carlson (although I think a year of moving between Hershey and Washington would be good for Carlson).

Forward Eric Fehr is fighting injuries again.

And finally, the Michael Nylander saga continues as #92 went out with comments that Boudreau told the Swede that he wasn’t good enough to play for Washington which caused the Coach (who also has a book for sale that is doing quite well) to deny that publicly. So I will say this, Nylander isn’t good enough to play for the Caps based on what I saw from him last year and I don’t expect him to be any better this season. It would be nice if McPhee could just get rid of this guy but with #92’s no movement clause and high salary the GM may have to work miracles to make that happen.  There is talk that Nylander could become a distraction but I don’t see that happening – there are too many good guys in that locker room to let a “has been” second line center stand in the way of the team keeping focused on their goal of winning a Stanley Cup next year.