Is Barry Trotz a good fit for this Capitals squad?

 

After coaching 1,196 games with Nashville, Barry Trotz is headed to America’s Hockey Capital to coach the Washington Capitals.

If you think of Trotz as a “defense-first” coach you are not alone. His teams were known to play a strong defensive system which always featured adept defensemen, strong goaltending and forwards who are strong on the forecheck after dumping the puck deep in the offensive zone.

However, it wasn’t always like this.

 

Paul Kariya was signed by the Nashville Predators for the 2005-06 season, bringing together “a star hockey player who’s lost his star and a beleaguered hockey town banking its future that he can find it again.”

Kariya, then 31 years old, spent nine seasons with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and one with the Colorado Avalanche. Hand injuries limited Kariya to just 11 goals and 36 points in 51 games with the Avalanche in 2003-04 but he would hit the 50-goal plateau once, the 40-goal plateau twice and 30-goal plateau in three season prior. Kariya would go on to score 161 points in 164 games over the next two seasons with Nashville under Trotz, including 31 and 24 goals in 2005-06 and 2007-08, respectively.

So it would seem that Trotz can adapt his coaching style to fit his team’s personnel — at least almost a decade ago — but that hasn’t always led to success.

For example, ignoring special teams and lead-protecting situations, the Predators took 45.9 percent of the shot attempts during the lockout-shortened season in 2013 and just 46.1 percent the year before - possible by-products of relying on a dump and chase strategy. Last season that was bumped up to 50.7 percent, the 13th best percentage in the league, a resurgence that could be a result of Nashville embracing advanced analytics.

Throughout the offseason and into training camp, Predators Coach Barry Trotz has said he wants his team to get better at transitioning the puck, to focus on carrying the puck into the attack (rather than dumping it into the corner and chasing it down). During free agency, General Manager David Poile lauded the amount of shots (read our explanation of Corsi and its relationship to possession and success) his free-agent acquisitions produced and, in some cases, how well those new players carried the puck. It’s an easy leap to make between Tulsky’s research, his relationship with the team and this new emphasis from the Predators decision-makers.

However, barely breaking even is no recipe for success.

Trotz once brought up the Corsi metric (unsolicited) during a discussion about center Paul Gaustad. “His Corsi stat is probably not real great because he starts in our end the whole time,” Trotz said. “But he’s a real important part of our success.”

Another player important to Nashville’s success was defenseman Ryan Suter, and the club has been in a state of flux since losing him to Minnesota as a free agent in 2012 and haven’t made the playoffs since his departure. But even without Suter, the overall defensive talent in Nashville is an upgrade over what is currently in place in Washington.

Over the past three season, Nashville’s blue liners have been better than Washington’s in terms of tilting the ice in their favor.

So is Trotz a fit for this Capitals’ squad despite their lack of defensive talent?

Like most teams, the Capitals are at their best in terms of generating shots on net when they carry the puck in, with Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer specifically not able to generate much off the dump and chase early in the season. Joel Ward was successful under Trotz during his time in Nashville and showed tremendous chemistry with Jason Chimera and Eric Fehr last season on the top third line. It remains to be seen how Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom will be deployed, but if history is any guide it would be best to not ask too much of Ovechkin defensively.

Washington doesn’t have strong goaltending, but it could get the job done. Braden Holtby, despite playing deeper in the net, was seventh in even-strength save percentage (0.934) last season among goaltenders with at least 2,000 minutes. Philipp Grubauer, possibly the backup at just 22 years old, stopped 434 of the 469 shots (0.925 save percentage) he faced in limited duty.

Some of the tools are there for Trotz to be successful, but it remains to be seen if this roster can become successful with yet another philosophy that looks to bring in more defensive responsibility.

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.
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