The Washington Capitals preseason is underway, and the regular season begins October 9 at home against the Canadiens. Two changes are in store for the Caps this season: a new coach, 51-year-old Barry Trotz, and that Washington will host the annual Winter Classic, against the Chicago Blackhawks, on January 1 at Nats Park. The Caps won the 2011 Winter Classic in Pittsburgh, defeating the Penguins 3-1.
Trotz is the 17th coach in Capitals history, hired by owner Ted Leonsis in May to succeed Adam Oates. He comes to Washington from the Nashville Predators with a record as the longest tenured coach in the NHL. He also has a Washington background—he spent five seasons coaching the Caps’ AHL developmental affiliate, the Baltimore Skipjacks.
We asked him 16 questions, ranging from hardcore hockey issues to some personal favorites. Here they are:
What was the allure of coming to Washington to coach the Caps?
Foremost was that I was a part of the organization before, and I knew a lot of people. They reached out real quick, but I looked at the roster and said it was still a pretty good roster. I think it is a terrific city. All that being said, that was the big allure.
You have a lot of talent on the team. How will you manage the depth without trades?
Everybody gets better every day. That is how you reach your potential and understand and have a plan on what you are doing. That’s the key—to get better every day and be consistent and accountable.
How do you coach Alex Ovechkin, a superstar who is almost 30 years old? Can he still learn, adjust, and change his game?
The great athletes do adjust their game because they are getting older. They know what they have. You cannot be a one-trick pony all the time. You have to grow your game. Alex has grown his game in some areas, but there is some growth in other areas for him. So you just coach him honestly—you say, “You are a great player, and I want to use you and use your potential, but we can improve in these areas.”
Do you see some breakout surprises in the roster?
You’re going to see a few guys. You are going to see a guy like Mike Green get back to some of the numbers that he had in the past. John Carlson on the back end will have a breakout season. Up front, I probably say that I am looking for Marcus Johansson to have a breakout season. He is at that age where he needs to get to the next level as a player, and he has the ability to do that.
What’s the key element the Caps have been missing that you bring to the job?
The big element I think that I bring is that I am a veteran coach. I am big on accountability, so they can play consistently. Getting a lot out of the potential that we have here is my strength.
Is this another “tough guy” year for Tom Wilson, or do you have plans to mold him into something more?
I had really high expectations for Tom, and he’s got a little bit of a setback with the major surgery on his ankle, but I think he can be one of the top power forwards in the NHL given time.
Is it time to retire the shoot-out?
No, it’s time to add some things. We talked about the four on four; we talked about flipping sides so that the changes are longer. But I think it’s important that you have a winner in a game. The one pet peeve I do have is that all games should be worth the same. They should be worth three points, not necessarily two and sometimes one.
With the Winter Classic coming to home turf, how do you make it a motivator rather than it becoming a distraction?
I don’t think it is a distraction at all. I think from that standpoint, it is on my bucket list. It is on a lot of players’ bucket lists. You become the game that day and have maybe the biggest hockey audience of the year on that day. If that doesn’t motivate you, I don’t know what will. It is a big stage. Big players want to have big stages, and we’ve got some big players.
What do you want—and not want—from the owner?
Number one is to show support through good times and bad times. That’s what ownership does the best. It can have the biggest impact. Obviously the ownership pays the bills and all of that, but you support the group together, and I think that is going to happen here. I love the ownership here.
What’s your favorite hockey movie?
It’s got to be old-time Slap Shot. That is a classic. There are too many one-liners in that to not like the movie. Probably the second would be Miracle.
Who is your hockey hero and why?
Bobby Orr. I thought he was the greatest player of all time because he was so far ahead of the competition in his prime. I used to dream about being number four. I used to wear number four. Four has been my lucky number. I have four kids; it has been a really good number for me.
What is your favorite moment on the ice?
There are a couple. The first time I stepped behind the bench in Nashville. The first time I step on the bench in Washington will be a big moment. Big moments are always a first for me. Be it the first game or the first playoff win, they are all big moments for me.
If not the Caps, which Washington team would you want to coach?
I am going to say the Nats, and not just because they are really good right now. I was a Montreal Expos fan all my life, through the years of Andre Dawson, Warren Cromartie, Tim Raines, Gary Carter—all these different people who ended up moving and being the Nats. So I have to say the Nats.
Will the US ever consistently produce hockey players on par with Canada and Russia?
Absolutely; they are doing it now. USA is a powerhouse in the hockey world. They have the development program. If you look at the numbers, there are probably more people playing hockey in the United States now than in Canada. At the level they are teaching, the level the young players are playing . . . at high levels, I don’t see that dwindling. I just see it getting stronger and stronger.
A female professional hockey league has never quite taken off. Why is that?
It all depends. It is all about caliber of play. It is not about gender. To me, if the gender can get the caliber of play that high, to the level of the NHL, then it will succeed. If they can do that or not, I don’t know.
Are you more Baltimore or Washington?
That is a tough one for me, because I was in Baltimore and I lived in Baltimore. I love Washington because I am a big military guy, so I will say I am more of a Washington guy. The one area that I have always been a fan of is the Ravens and the culture they had, a take-no-prisoners type of culture. I always admired that. When I coached in Baltimore, I sort of followed the Baltimore teams, but that is . . . the only area I am a Baltimore guy.
Find Carol Ross Joynt on Twitter at @caroljoynt.