In today’s print edition, there’s a profile of new Capitals Coach Barry Trotz, his journey to Washington and the cosmic signs that lit the way. Here on the blog are some leftovers from a roughly 90-minute conversation last week at his hotel, across the street from the team’s practice facility in Ballston, as well as from those with his former players and coworkers.
● Asked about his legacy in Nashville, where he spent 15 seasons as the Predators’s first and only coach, Trotz branched out in two directions.
“I got to start with a great organization in Nashville through a great game of hockey,” he began. “To a non-traditional market, and going through all the trials and tribulations of an expansion team, to the NHL market and a rabid fan base, a place to live and all that. Hopefully when I make it to 80, I can go to a hockey game and watch the Predators and Capitals play with my grandkids. That’s probably my legacy on the hockey side.”
(No specific mention of becoming the NHL’s longest tenured coach, of reaching the playoffs in seven of eight seasons – even though none lasted longer than the second round – or the 557 aggregate victories over those 15 seasons.)
Then Trotz – “probably more importantly,” he said – talked about his work with Best Buddies, a charity that creates friendships for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Trotz’s 13-year-old son, Nolan, has Down syndrome. The family had declined to have an amniocentesis, a prenatal procedure that can diagnose the condition, because they were prepared to handle whatever happened. So after the Predators community relations department took a call from a local woman trying to start a Best Buddies chapter in Nashville, Trotz helped out, raising $30,000 to show the national organization they were serious.
“She thought it was her calling, very important,” Trotz said. “So I said, ‘I’m in.’ ”
Over his time in Nashville, Trotz was known to have an office filled with game-used jerseys, broken sticks and guitars, all to be autographed by players and brought to Best Buddies, either for donation or auction to support the cause.
Now, the Nashville Best Buddies organization has over 10 full-time employees, scheduled an annual prom dance that got so big they needed to move it into the Predators arena (goaltender Pekka Rinne went with his buddy) and held a casino night with fake money. Capitals owner Ted Leonsis is also heavily involved in Best Buddies, so Trotz hopes to continue his work here.
“As a parent, your biggest fear is having our child not loved,” Trotz said, tears welling in his eyes. “That’s heart-wrenching. So that brings it back, that spirit that it’s going to be okay. It’s life-changing.”
● One of Trotz’s longtime assistants, Peter Horachek was recently fired as the interim head coach in Florida and wouldn’t rule out a return to Trotz’s bench, but said he was still seeking head-coaching gigs. Only Vancouver, Carolina and Florida still have vacancies.
“I’m still looking to see other jobs around the league,” Horachek said. “[Trotz and I] talked during the season when I was still in Florida, we talked maybe once a week or fairly often. We kept in touch. I certainly enjoyed those times. Right now I’m still looking and seeing what’s out there as far as head-coaching jobs. I think that’s the goal. You want to have that opportunity to be a head coach. But a lot of times it’s the people around you that are the most important and you want to surround yourself with good people. I certainly enjoyed my time with him and that was very important for me.”
● More than one year ago, the Capitals dealt their top prospect to Nashville for a veteran, in the hopes that Martin Erat would help them win in the moment, no matter what parting ways with Filip Forsberg meant. Given the struggles Erat endured in Washington, eventually buried on the bench and traded away, and the growth Forsberg has showed (second in the World Junior Championships with 12 points as the MVP and 39 points in 60 games last season between Nashville and the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals), it’s safe to say that plenty view the trade to be a steal for the Predators and a mistake for the Capitals.
Not Trotz. At least, he didn’t think so at the time.
“When that trade was done, I thought it was a great trade for both,” he said. “I know George McPhee took a lot of heat for that, but Marty Erat was my best player. He was my best player for the last couple years. I thought that was a great move for the Caps, adding a piece because they were trying to win. They said we’re going to give you a legitimate piece, a future piece, for a player who can help us right now win the Stanley Cup. I thought it was a really good move for both organizations.
“We were giving up an asset for a player who’s a little older, who had been our best player for a while, for a young Filip Forsberg who might play next year, might not play for a couple years. There’s still a lot of growth. That’s just my opinion. I really thought that was a hockey deal. Unfortunately Marty didn’t have any success here, and you get judged on that. I thought that was a good hockey deal. They were trying to win a Cup and they were willing to give up assets to get a player that they thought could help them do that. That’s the commitment of winning that you look for.”
Erat, as Capitals fans remember well, requested a trade last November and maintained his desires until he was finally shipped to Phoenix for a prospect (Chris Brown), a defenseman (Rotislav Klesla) and a fourth-round pick in 2015. Klesla was then flipped as part of the package that brought goaltender Jaroslav Halak to the Capitals. (Halak was later dealt to the Islanders).
● One random analytical quote from former Trotz player and current NBC hockey analyst Keith Jones:
“It’s getting their high-end players back to playing at the explosive level we’ve seen in the past,” he said. “I know [Alex] Ovechkin will get most of the fingers pointed his way, but to me if Barry Trotz can find a way to get more out of [defenseman] Mike Green on the back end, which I’m not sure Mike Green has more left, that’s the challenge to me. That would be a game-changer for the Capitals. That would alleviate a lot of the pressure on a new head coach.”
● Among Trotz’s motivational techniques? Playing for candy bars.
“Take the World Hockey Championships,” Trotz explained. “You get over to a foreign country, you don’t have English TV or the conveniences of home. Say we’re going to do a competition. We might have, with Hockey Canada, an Aero Bar, a chocolate bar. ‘Okay we’re going to play for this chocolate bar.’
“Here you have guys who made millions of dollars, they’re professional athletes, and they will fight tooth and nail to win. It’s not necessarily for the chocolate bar. It’s the competitive spirit. That’s what you want. You want to bring out the competitive spirit in the player. That’s what they have. And some guys have it brighter than others. At the same time, if a guy’s flame is flickering out, you can stoke it a bit. If it’s burning brightly, you let it happen.”
● Trotz, 51, met his wife, Kim, in elementary school. Their families knew each other. She’s known Trotz’s sister since she was born. Kim was his first crush, Trotz said.
This year, they celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. The couple has been together for 32 years.
● Trotz confirmed the airport story told over on the Bog by Steinberg, where a Capitals fan visiting Nashville spotted Trotz, and Trotz asked him for his thoughts about the team.
“He said, ‘You’re going to Washington aren’t you?’ ” Trotz said. “‘Well I’m meeting them,’ I said, ‘but what do you think about the team?’ ”
● “I saw a certain player play three times, and all three times he played pretty good, but when you really dissect him as a player, you see him at practice and away from the rink, it might be horrifying or it might be, ‘Oh my god this guy’s fantastic and I had no idea,’ ” Trotz said. “I had respect, but now that I’m watching him closer, I think he’s a fantastic player. He’s their best all-around player. And that’s a big saying.”
He was talking about Nicklas Backstrom.
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