Not 40 minutes into his first developmental camp as coach of the Washington Capitals, Barry Trotz had already begun holding court with rinkside fans. He snapped some photographs (two selfies, even) signed some autographs, talked some hockey. He lingered with whoever had thoughts to share, standing near the hanging white banner that read, “Welcome Coach Trotz & Staff & Future Caps.”
Only the clear glass separated Trotz from his new players, whizzing around the ice Monday morning, the first day of Capitals’ development camp. He spent the early sessions — intense, fundamental skating drills with instructors Trotz brought in for just the occasion -– shuffling between rinks with new assistant coach Todd Reirden, eying the action. He had greeted nearly four dozen new faces that morning and needed to learn nearly four dozen new names. The backs of the jerseys helped.
“When you see them skating, there are certain guys you go, ‘I can relate to this guy. I get how he skates,’” Trotz said. “I’ve seen him and I can sort of match everything up so I can get an idea.”
One week into his second full month helming Washington, the spotlight turned to Trotz, in his element overseeing his first development camp at Kettler Capitals Iceplex and halting his stride to sign another puck or another photo. General manager Brian MacLellan had made his splash, to the tune of $69.65 million in free agency spending. And barring a mid-summer addition — likely a center, MacLellan said — the roster for which Trotz recently sketched out exhibition lineups will strongly resemble the roster that executes them come October.
“All of that’s sort of fantasy hockey, but it needs to be done now, not in August,” Trotz said. “We’ll have that all done before development camp is over. We’ll be in good shape by then. We’ve got good hockey people who are on the ball.”
Earlier that day, Trotz had addressed the cluster of undrafted free agents and Capitals picks, all brought to Ballston for three days of instruction then three days of intrasquad scrimmages. He reviewed the schedule, detailed to include film sessions, off-ice lifts and morning talks about what Trotz calls “pro life skills.” Basically, how to act in the National Hockey League.
“He’s an easy guy to talk to,” prospect and Hershey Bears forward Nathan Walker said.
In a way, this week represents the return to normalcy for Trotz. He’s back on the bench, at one moment blasting his whistle to signal the end of a practice session, at another joking with Hershey goaltender Philipp Grubauer, in town for several days of offseason workouts. Last week, Trotz flew to Las Vegas to meet Alex Ovechkin, closed the purchase of his northern Virginia home, attended the NHL draft in Philadelphia and returned to the area for a quiet holiday weekend of work. He is still reaching out to veteran players, but knows only so much can be accomplished over the phone.
“I haven’t been able to get to all of them,” Trotz said. “I’m going to try to. It’s very important to me, but I’ve had good communication with a number of veteran guys. It’s either email or text or something. I don’t want to be overbearing as well. But I’m going to try to make a couple more trips before I’ve got to move.”
Oh, right. There’s still the matter of moving his family from their summer home in British Columbia back to Nashville, where they have been rooted for the past 17 years, and then to Virginia. By mid-August, he expects his new staff –- Reirden (Pittsburgh), Lane Lambert (Nashville) and goaltending coach Mitch Korn (Nashville) -– to be here too, right around one month before training camp opens. The schedule for that has been scripted already too.
“The message,” Trotz said shortly into his news conference Tuesday, “is I’m changing things.”