Barry Trotz earned his spurs by coaching an NHL expansion team for 15 seasons. Remarkably, he lived to tell about it.
While dozens of NHL coaches were handed pink slips through those 15 years, Trotz managed to dodge the bullets. He is a coach that has made the best of whatever hand he is dealt.
Due to changes in ownership and always having to pinch pennies when it came to going after top echelon stars in Nashville, Trotz kept his chin up. He believed if players united and kept working hard, it would pay dividends.
It took some time. Progress was slow. While Trotz learned the craft of an NHL coach, his teams were known for their toughness, strong goalie play and a defense that kept them in close games.
Let go after 15 seasons, the Capitals scooped Trotz up and brought him back to where it all began. Trotz had coached Washington’s top minor league team in the 1990s.
Now he has a fresh start with an ownership that has deeper pockets, a new general manager in Brian MacLellan and a roster that has more offensive weapons than Trotz has ever enjoyed.
Led by three-time MVP Alex Ovechkin’s 51 goals last season, it still was not enough to prevent Washington from missing the playoffs for the first time in seven years.
Trotz is adamant that a winning hockey team has to be well-rounded, not be reliant on one player, or one facet of the game.
He plans to have an eye-to-eye meeting with Ovechkin. Trotz wants to get to know him and make his case why it is vital for Ovechkin to become a player who will make an impact on both sides of the ice.
Four coaches have gone before Trotz, trying to get Ovechkin to become at least interested in providing more defense for the Caps. All four struck out.
“My job as a coach is to find a way to allow Alex and the other players to reach their potential as a group, and be able to play together,’’ Trotz said.
Trotz pointed to kindergarten students, who get report cards that inform their parents if their child plays well with others, or not, as the case may be.
“My job is to get everybody to play well with the others.’’
He knows the pressure to win right away is on him. He has strong shoulders and uses a direct approach with players. They have the pieces to be a playoff team and make some waves. In order for that to happen, the defense must step up and be more accountable.
“I don’t want to take anything away from the Capitals offensively. They have great power plays and great individuals that can put the puck in the net,’’ Trotz said.
“I didn’t have that in Nashville. I had some real good players, but not enough up front, so we became a little more of a defensive team.’’
The 51-year-old Trotz, who reminds me of a Danny DeVito double, is a player’s coach. They like playing for him. He has an open door policy, a rarity in Washington. Some claim he was too soft with the Predators, but he can get his point across when he sees fit.
Trotz and GM Brian MacLellan were paired together by owner Ted Leonsis with one goal in mind. Bring home a Stanley Cup.
MacLellan logged the last 13 seasons with the Caps. Seven of them was in an assistant GM’s role. The rest of the time he was heavily involved in scouting.
Like Trotz, MacLellan knows it takes everyone in the organization holding the rope.
“There’s enough ability here,’’ Trotz said. “We just have to forge a little bit of an identity going forward.’’
There were holes in the lines of communication last season.
It’s Barry Trotz’s goal to close the ranks.
Contact wkrn.com Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at firstname.lastname@example.org.