PHILADELPHIA – The tables were arranged into rows, the phone lines hooked into their ports, the team logos stamped onto their placards, so everyone could know who was where. And somewhere, out in the cattle pen of NHL officials at the 2014 entry draft, stood Barry Trotz, greetings his old friends, saying hello to those who knew him when.
One month into his tenure as the new Washington Capitals head coach, something still lured Trotz back into the past, to the group of friends sitting around the table with the Nashville Predators insignia. Right off the jump he went there on Friday night at Wells Fargo Center, seeking handshakes and how-you-beens and the elusive feeling of closure.
“It was all by design,” Trotz would say later. “It wasn’t like I was disrespecting anybody in Washington.”
No, at that moment his new life was shoved into the back of his mind, superseded by those scouts and officials who had never gotten to say goodbye when Trotz was dismissed by the Predators two months ago. He left as the only head coach in franchise history, bound for a new challenge in Washington, where he would overtake a team that had missed its first postseason since 2006-07, where he would find an entirely unfamiliar roster laden with forwards but lacking at the blue line.
The most cathartic moment came hours later. He was on the stage at Wells Fargo Center, alongside Capitals General manager Brian MacLellan and assistant general manager Ross Mahoney and all the others he had come to know since being announced as Washington’s first bench boss with NHL head coaching experience in 17 years. He helped pass the red Washington sweater to forward Jakub Vrana, an 18-year-old Czech prospect drafted with 13th overall on Friday night. Suddenly, it felt right.
“My time in Nashville was wonderful,” Trotz said. “A fantastic organization and a great city. I had 17 years of great memories. Now I’m excited about the new challenge and hopefully I’ll have a lot of good memories here.”
Since his introductory news conference, Trotz has flown to British Columbia to move his family into their summer vacation, closed on a house in northern Virginia, visited several Capitals players including star forward Alex Ovechkin in Las Vegas and, in what he considers the first checkpoint for his new job, finalized the coaching staff. The four-man operation is a blend of old and new. It mixes those familiar with Trotz, those familiar with the Capitals and those unfamiliar with everything.
“I think in terms of where they are as coaches, as a group, I think they’re going to have a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of knowledge that they’ll bring to the group and hopefully I think the staff is going to mesh well,” Trotz said. “Personalities, everybody’s going to be on the same page. We’re talking about bringing our group together as a team, having a staff that’s together, you have to have functionality through the organization. I think we’ve got that.”
In Mitch Korn, Trotz lured a goaltending coach out of potential retirement, someone who had spent all 15 seasons in Predators history with him, to bring his arsenal of teaching props to Washington. In Lane Lambert, Trotz got his forwards coach from Nashville, and Lambert was there in Philadelphia too. In Todd Reirden, Trotz found a fresh set of eyes, the former power play and blue-line coach for the Penguins who will work alongside Lambert on the penalty kill. In Blaine Forsythe, Trotz kept onboard a longtime member of the Capitals organization, “a little bit of a forgotten guy” he said, who will maintain the league’s most prolific power play and handle what Trotz calls “coaches analytics,” essentially tapping into Forsythe’s background as a video coach to chart things like puck battles.
“It’s not the Corsi or anything like that, but what combined with what we work with…the eyeball test with coaches, it’s what you feel, it’s what you see,” Trotz said. “A lot of times I believe the Corsi stuff has some value. It really puts some red flags on certain guys. But it’s still an eyeball test and trust test and matchup test.
“Really Blaine will help with that, he has some strength and background with that as a video coach. Then on the bench he’ll have different duties as well.”
Soon, Trotz and MacLellan and the rest of the Washington organization will make their decisions in free agency and on the trade market, trying to address the offseason needs. A veteran, top-four defenseman takes immediate priority. Finding a backup for Holtby comes after. But in Trotz’s mind, finalizing the staff would usher in the next phase – the NHL draft, now completed – which would then begat free agency.
“We’ve got our staff, we’ve got the facilities,” Trotz said. “I think there are a lot of good pieces on our hockey team. Those are good starting points going into the next phase of building this team.”
But nothing, at least personally, compared to that feeling on the carpeted, fenced-off floor in Philadelphia, when Trotz could walk away from the Nashville table and head across the room, to the table that looked exactly the same, except for the new logo rising from the middle.
“Okay,” Trotz told the Predators. “I’m going over here. Now I don’t like you guys anymore.”