With his first NHL coaching job in hand and making his first hire of an assistant, new Capitals coach Adam Oates turned to a familiar face.
Oates tabbed longtime Washington defenseman Calle Johansson as an assistant coach Wednesday, the first of two assistants Oates will be hiring this offseason.
Johansson, who said he had an offer to come back to the NHL in 2005 as an assistant coach but turned it down, felt this situation with his former teammate was right.
"I've been asked through the years from different people and organizations in Sweden if I ever wanted to coach again or do coaching and I said, ‘Yes, I do want to when the situation is right, when there are people around me that I really like and trust and know, think hockey kind of the same way I do,'" Johansson said to reporters on a conference call.
"Adam called me and asked me a few weeks back and it just felt right," he said. "I've always loved the Washington Capitals, I was there for a long time. A lot of the same people are still there, and Adam and I played together for a number of years and I know Adam well. We got along great when we played and we still do."
Johansson played most of his NHL career with Washington from 1989 to 2003, setting the franchise mark for games played in a Capitals sweater with 983, along with short stints in Buffalo and Toronto. He also was in Washington including Oates' entire five-year stint in the nation's capital from 1997 to 2002, and was one of the Capitals' assistant captains during Oates' time as team captain as well.
The Goteborg, Sweden, native also is the all-time franchise leader in points (474) and assists (371) by a defenseman, and along with Oates and goaltending coach Olaf Kolzig. All three were members of the Capitals team that reached the franchise's only Stanley Cup Finals berth in 1998 - which Johansson called the pinnacle of his career.
"You know, nothing beat that in my career," Johansson said. "I won some gold medals [with Sweden] in the world championship, but going to the Cup Finals in 1998 was the biggest."
Oates - who has no previous head coaching experience - now will take on an assistant who has just one season as an assistant coach in Sweden under his belt, as he was an assistant for the Swedish Elite League club Frolunda during the 2006-07 season. Johansson primarily had worked as a color commentator for broadcasts of the SEL and the NHL for the Swedish networks Canal+ and Viasat before and after his tenure as an assistant coach.
During his playing career, Johansson was a smooth-skating defenseman who also played a responsible defensive style, blending offensive skill with a disciplined approach to defending his own zone, and he will try to bring the same approach to the Capitals.
"I might want to tweak a little bit of the defense play, but we're going to become a more offensive team. But we're not going to sacrifice defense and become a run-and-gun team. That's what I like."
"You look at the defense in Washington today and it's got great potential," he said. "To me, when I see them, they play pretty much the same way I did or I wanted to and I tried to. They're great skaters, they are good two-way defensemen. I think...they could become easily the best D corps in the league."
For the Capitals, Johansson's hiring also means the last five coaches and assistant coaches the team has utilized - Dale Hunter, Dean Evason, Jim Johnson, Oates and now Johansson - all played for the franchise at one point during their careers.
"I just had hoped, I've always wanted to come back in some form. I'm really grateful and lucky to be there again."
And, back in North America, Johansson looks for something he never won as a player: the Stanley Cup.
"I don't have a Cup," said Johansson, who was named an assistant coach Wednesday. "People ask players and they ask coaches, 'What's the biggest thing you can win? Is it the Olympics or is it the Stanley Cup?' I know that they are pretty politically correct when they say, 'Well, they're both pretty big.' To me, to win the Stanley Cup with players or coaches that you side with every day for nine months or 10 months, that is the absolute ultimate goal and the biggest thing you can do. For me, that's really unfinished business.
But for Johansson, the timing was right for a return to America's capital.
"The team in Washington is a great hockey team and has great potential," he said. "To me, it was just a perfect situation."