They gathered behind a tall, red curtain on the balcony level of the practice facility, partitioning the new Washington Capitals coaching staff from the public during three developmental camp scrimmages last week. Barry Trotz next to Lane Lambert next to Todd Reirden next to Blaine Forsythe, all hanging over the rails to watch the action through the nets. Between periods, the coaches retreated into a conference room, also overlooking the rink, where they evaluated personnel and reviewed the action. Under this fresh regime every little moment could be turned into a system-wide teaching tool.
“I think when you’re talking about plans for your season, it’s great for us to get on the same page with our entire staff this week,” said Reirden, the defensive assistant who came from Pittsburgh. “I think it’s also good to watch some hockey, talk about different things you expect from your team and how you want your team to play. There’s no better way than standing up, watching some of our future Caps players going through the game process.”
They had already endured the weeks of contract negotiations and entrance interviews and calling new players to say hello. Now, at camp, came the chance for Trotz and his staff to finally work together under the same roof, in a low-stress environment with plenty of down time for chitchat. Consider it assimilation by conversation.
“I thought the chemistry and the work ethic of everybody was exceptional and real focused,” Trotz said. “We actually got a lot done in a short time.”
The staff briefly dispersed to their respective homes to finalize any personal matters before reassembling in early August, with rookie camp opening in September. For Trotz, this meant flying to Portland, Maine, for a Calder Cup reunion, won 20 years ago as an AHL coach in the Capitals organization. Then it was off to Nashville for his daughter’s birthday, then moving his family from their summer home in British Columbia, then moving everyone from their once-permanent home in Nashville, then moving into their new spot in northern Virginia.
Lambert, the forwards-minded assistant who worked under Trotz with the Predators, is moving into a home one mile from Kettler Capitals Iceplex. Goaltending coach Mitch Korn left early for another sojourn to his renowned youth camps. Only Forsythe, held over from the previous group, could enjoy some stasis.
“I think it’s been a bit of a whirlwind,” Lambert said. “It’s all good. Very excited about getting into this area and starting up what we need to do.”
In between the flurry of activity, Trotz scheduled conference calls and dispatched his assistants to phone every player at their respective positions. He wanted everyone back one month before the preseason begins and left open the possibility of adding another offseason piece, most likely an upgrade at second-line center if general manager Brian MacLellan has his druthers.
“We’ve got sort of a laundry list of things that needs to get done from now until when we come back,” Trotz said. “The staff will all be back here in place probably a month before training camp, which will give us plenty of time. We’ll work through the summer with not only the coaching staff, trainers on that, but also the hockey ops with Mac and management, still trying to improve the hockey team.”
Yet with a total of nearly $70 million committed to three free agents on July 1, the roster is all but complete, and with the productive week at development camp behind them, so too appears to be the staff’s introductory phase.
Trotz’s fingerprints were imprinted early and often, from the iPads used to teach fundamental skating to the nutritional instruction and “pro-life skills” talks and motivational speakers scheduled for all the prospects. After scrimmages, the staff broke down video, even though very few – perhaps none – of the players in attendance will play for the Capitals this season.
During intermissions, the staff kicked back around a table and talked about what they had just seen.
“I think it’s a really great process for our whole staff to go through,” Reirden said. “For me, it’s about organizational success and having your coaches around for these types of sessions, both on and off the ice. You really get a feel for what type of player you have. It’s been a really great week so far for me.”