The moment Capitals development camp broke, Coach Barry Trotz boarded a northbound plane to attend a reunion celebrating the two-decade anniversary of the AHL’s Portland Pirates winning the Calder Cup. He was an up-and-comer then, in his early 30s and following the team on its migration from Baltimore to Maine, a vital cog in the organization he would later rejoin as Capitals head coach.
“It’s a special group,” Trotz said Saturday. “You always have special bonds, so I’m going to get up there.”
Memories of his Washington connection have faded with time, overtaken by 15 seasons as Nashville’s only head coach, and Trotz has done little reminiscing about those days since he was hired to replace the fired Adam Oates on Memorial Day. Maybe an anecdote here, or a fond recollection there, but by and large he has been defined by his tenure with the Predators, the only NHL team he has ever steered.
Yet since Trotz and his staff assembled in Washington, the idea of the “Capitals Way” has entered their lexicon, another one of the intangible concepts – think “culture change” or “Brooks Orpik’s leadership” – being preached so much.
So what does this mean, exactly? What is the “Washington Capitals Way” Trotz wants to implement, or rediscover, or put back on track?
“I think it’s team-first and you’re able to count on the guy right beside you, across from you,” assistant coach Lane Lambert said. “There’s a lot of togetherness. There’s a lot of team-oriented concepts that we work on this week.”
“I think it’s going to be something we’re still formulating as a staff,” assistant coach Todd Reirden said. “I think a lot of times when you’re forming a model and words you want to use to describe your team before you go out and make those words public, I think you need to interact with the players and watch and now you can develop some of those characteristics after you’ve played, gone through some training camp games and real games. That’s when you get concrete words that define your team.”
Frustrated fans could certainly conjure any number of definitions or examples to categorize the term over recent seasons, like a lack of defensive depth, or constant upheaval at head coach, or the pervasive second-line center issues, or the franchise’s first postseason absence since 2006-07. So here comes Trotz, the man known for connecting with his players, seeking, as owner Ted Leonsis has called it, a “refresh.”
Part of this will mean creating a leadership group, serving as liaisons between the locker room and coaches. Defenseman Mike Green will be on it, Trotz told CSN, and others will follow.
“To me, to be in the leadership group you’ve got to become a good role model,” he said. “And you’ve got to be a role model for everybody and you’ve got to be a coach’s voice. When things are going a little bit awry, then I think you have to have the communication between that group and myself. That group has got to get the coaching staff and the organizational message to everybody in that room. That’s what leadership is. I’m giving them the opportunity to be a part of that. If they embrace it, I think it could be a very powerful group.”
Green, Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich all served as alternate captains last season behind Alex Ovechkin, but Trotz said he hasn’t made any decisions in that department yet, and doesn’t plan to until training camp rolls around.
“I haven’t coached any of the players, so it would be unfair to go, ‘Yeah I’m going to do it,’” Trotz said. “We’ll just play it out right through. There’s no reason to change it if I haven’t owned the team. As I say, until you own it you don’t know. It would be very unfair to the players if I said, ‘Okay, you’re not assistant captain, you’re not this.’ To me, it’d be crazy to do that.”