Before they jetted back home for summer workouts and rest, four Washington Capitals arrived at Verizon Center on Tuesday afternoon to watch their new coach and general manager get introduced. Forward Brooks Laich, forward Jason Chimera, defenseman John Carlson and goaltender Braden Holtby sat stage-left, shaking hands with Coach Barry Trotz and general manager Brian MacLellan before the event began, then answered questions about the bosses.
Watching Nashville Predators game on television, Laich found himself struck by the energy and focus of Trotz’s teams.
“You didn’t know which way, if you were watching on the screen, you couldn’t tell, if you just turned to the channel, whether they were backchecking or forechecking, because they skated just as hard back the ice as they did up the ice,” he said. “As a player who appreciates the 200-foot game, I’m excited to have a coach like that who demands that of everybody.”
Both Laich and Holtby swung their conversations to the more intangible concepts on which Trotz has erected his reputation as a player-friendly coach — things such as “consistency,” “stability” and “discipline” — with the implication that the Capitals could use an elixir containing these ingredients.
“And if you continually have those and emphasize those, and speak it and act it, you set yourself up for a lot of success,” Laich said. “We’ve been kind of up and down in the past here. We weren’t the same team that practiced when we lost as when we won. If we lost, we practiced hard. Sometimes if we won, it was a little loosey-goosey. You have to have a bit of a solider attitude to continually get better. I think those guys bring it. They’re no nonsense, straightforward guys.”
Though Laich and Holtby said they paid little attention to the general manager search, which ultimately resulted in MacLellan’s promotion – “Their job is far above our IQs as hockey players,” Holtby cracked – both said they secretly were hoping that the Capitals would choose Trotz, the organization’s first bench hire with head coaching experience since 1997.
“That name was always mentioned at sort of length,” Laich said. “You sit there thinking, ‘Can we get him, can we get him?’ And we got him.”
In Nashville, Trotz and his staff had great success with their goaltenders, molding Tomas Vokoun, the organization’s all-time saves leader, and Pekka Rinne, a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist, into backbones in the net. Now he inherits Holtby, who struggled with confidence issues during a revolving-door season in goal under Adam Oates, when technique changes clashed with his natural instincts. On Tuesday, Holtby was asked about his enthusiasm with Trotz now on board, and chose a more group-think answer.
“I think the biggest thing is what he was talking about earlier, with the team aspect,” he said. “Personal success comes from team success. It never goes the other way around. That’s what we’re excited about. As far as goaltending, when it comes to numbers, that stuff, I really don’t care about that stuff. The win column is what matters. It doesn’t matter how you’re doing as long as you’re winning. With Barry and Mac, their philosophies, we’re very excited with what they said and what they want to do with this organization.”
As for MacLellan, despite being an in-house promotion, the former assistant general manager and pro scout was formerly based in Minnesota and spent most of the season on the road, and even owner Ted Leonsis in his opening statement said he “had never really heard his voice,” something Laich echoed.
“You see the names and say, ‘Okay, I’ve known him, I’ve been around him for 10-plus years,’” Laich said. “Stern guy, straightforward guy, I think he could be great. Obviously we still need to get to know each other. He’s going to tell us what he expects of us, but just knowing him as a human before that, he’s a very stern, straightforward, black-and-white guy.”