Calle Johansson is one of my all-time favorite Washington Capitals players. He’s one of the most consistent two-way defenseman I’ve ever seen play and one of the gosh-darn nicest and funniest guys in the world.

That’s why this is so awkward. Around 8:50 PM on Monday night, tucked in between Alex Ovechkin’s media presser and the NHL Awards tomorrow, the Capitals’ Mike Vogel released the news that Johansson will not return next season as an assistant coach. He has stepped down and will be returning to Sweden.

Via Vogel’s excellent story, which you will read here:

“I’m really sorry,” says Johansson, via telephone from Sweden of his difficult decision. “We really liked it. It was a tough decision, really tough.

“The main reason was that our youngest daughter, Madeline, was going to high school over here in Sweden. And she missed one year, and that’s okay. But she didn’t want to miss any more and she really missed her friends. That was the main reason; so my daughter could go back to school in Sweden with her friends. That’s it.”

Under Johansson’s two years behind the bench, the Capitals defensive corps hemorrhaged goals like candy from a beaten piñata. The whole danged former-Caps-coaching-triumvirate of Adam Oates, Olie Kolzig, and Johansson was a marked failure. The Caps couldn’t hold leads and did not play anything resembling a team defense. They missed the playoffs for the first time in seven years.

A lot of our commenters look at Johansson’s coaching performance like this: the team’s defense was bad, therefore the coach in charge of the defense was bad, and therefore he deserves all your rage.

I don’t think it’s that simple.

Consider a few things out of Johansson’s control.

  • Adam Oates was unwilling to collaborate with respected goalie coach Dave Prior. Prior quit, so Oates promoted Olie Kolzig to teach the goaltenders Oates’ tactics. How much Oates’ systems and philosophies seeped into the other assistants coaching is unknown.
  • George McPhee wasn’t able to develop a top-tier defense in the organization. He plugged-in veterans like Tom Poti and Roman Hamrlik to go along with the team’s younger talent, but it never clicked. In 2005, McPhee drafted two defensemen who appeared at the time to have top-four potential: Sasha Pokulok and Joe Finley. Both prospects, who would be in their NHL primes now, flamed out.
  • The Capitals were unable to fully develop many of their draft picks, including first round draft pick Jeff Schultz, who was bought out after the 2013 season.
  • Because of the team’s lack of top tier defensive depth, John Carlson and Karl Alzner have been forced to eat minutes as top-pairing defenders. It is unclear if either player is truly a top-pairing defenseman.
  • Depth defensemen John Erskine and Jack Hillen got hurt early on. At no point did either play like he was capable this season. The team was forced to turn to journeymen and rookie defenders. The team’s bottom pairing struggled the entire season.

Then let’s look at things Johansson could control.

  • Mike Green led the team in possession and– despite some painful defensive woes (don’t bring up the odd-man breaks)– he had a good season.
  • Despite Adam Oates’ initial refusal to play Dmitry Orlov, Dima had a breakthrough season. He finished second on the team in puck possession and found confidence in his stick-handling and skating ability. This happened despite Oates’ insistence on moving the puck within the first few seconds of them owning it. Orlov appears to have a very bright future.
  • Rookies Nate Schmidt and Patrick Wey, players who had to be coached up and integrated onto the team quickly, played well and appear to be promising prospects. Johansson had to integrate five different rookie defenseman into the lineup at different times. All of them performed admirably.
  • Then there’s Connor Carrick. While Carrick struggled during his rookie season (as a 19-year-old), his positioning, strength, and board work improved over time, despite consistently poor possession statistics. At the end of the year, he credited Johansson for making him a better player.

Actually, all Caps defenders rallied around Johansson’s work as coach, while other players struggled to do the same for Adam Oates.

So, sure, Johansson was a part of the team’s disappointing season and many fans will see him as the escape goat. I understand that. I personally don’t think he was a bad coach, and I sure hope this isn’t the last I see of him.

He will always be one of the greatest Capitals of all time. The team should invite him to the Winter Classic Alumni Game. I would be excited to see him again.

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  • dylan wheatley

    i will always remember calle johansson as every player on the ice that one time al koken subbed for joe b and got hit on the head with a mallet

  • Boo Adam Oates boooooooooo

    All I can say is F Adam Oates. Horrible coach that clearly chained his assistants to the rusty pipe in the boiler room with his zone entry/exit scheme and handed ness obsession.

  • Alex Kahn

    You can only coach the players you have, so he did a pretty fine job with the defense that he got.

  • Zach Evans
  • Sarah

    Definitely didn’t deserve to be the top level piece in the Us vs Th3m Oates edition of the 2048 game. Sorry if that’s a spoiler for anyone.

  • VeggieTart

    And you also have to deal with the head coach you’re under. And we all know that Oates was not exactly collaborative.

  • Josh Jacobs

    Calle seems like a stand up guy, taking all the blame. Something Oates never did.

  • Ben Reed

    The team defensive strategy was horrible. At the blueline, they backed in. In the zone, they packed it in – but actively shunned blocking shots. The PK gave up historically bad shots/60 minutes, as documented on this very blog.

    Sure, Oates had his hand in some of it, but make no mistake that the lion’s share of the blame falls on CalleJo. The ability to instruct individuals is one thing, but team strategy and discipline were sorely lacking from this coaching staff, Calle included.

  • SeminAllOverTheIce

    So who’s to blame for not clearing our crease? Oates or Calle Jo? I dont think I’ve ever seen another team camping in our crease as often as they did this past season. I literally expected to see tents popping up soon…but then the season ended…thankfully (was getting painful to watch).

  • Graham Dumas

    I hear that, and I like the way you implied AO may have undermined Marcus Calle Johansson’s coaching by referencing the Calle Johansson Dave Prior debacle.

    But one thing that really frustrated me about Calle J’s system (if it was his, and there’s a good argument that it wasn’t) was the way he/AO seemed content to let the D collapse in, especially on the PK, and not really challenge as much as other teams at the boards.

    Anyone have any thoughts/theories/opinions on that style, or on who might have been to blame?

  • I actually disagreed with you for most of the article. You all, RMNB, seem to paint Adam Oates as the type of guy that doesn’t listen to anyone at all, not Prior (obviosuly), Olie, McPhee (case made well), or Johansson. And that last one is a realllly tough sell to me.


    I wasn’t sold on this until this line:
    Actually, all Caps defenders rallied around Johansson’s work as coach, while other players struggled to do the same for Adam Oates.

    The articles linked make it fairly clear how the players feel. So maybe Oates was a stand alone do it my way kind of guy… even to his friends/co-coaches. Just seems so… stupid for someone to be so stubborn in method and philosophy.

    Anyway, thanks Ian.

  • Amazing name