While owner Ted Leonsis has repeatedly declined to offer details about the ongoing search for a general manager and coach for the Washington Capitals, Barry Trotz — arguably the top coaching candidate on the market — confirmed the team has contacted him about its vacancy.
Fired by the Nashville Predators in April after 15 seasons, Trotz is well-respected around the league and eager to begin the next phase of his career.
The Capitals “were one of the first teams to reach out and asked what my plans were. I told them I would like to coach and they said they would love to talk to me. But obviously, they’re in the search for their general manager right now,” Trotz, 51, said in a phone interview Monday. “From my standpoint of wanting another opportunity, a lot of things excite me about the Capitals and the other teams that are out there. A new challenge, to me, is really exciting.”
Trotz’s comments are the latest indication the Capitals have decided to tackle finding a general manager first.
While the team hasn’t publicly ruled out hiring a coach first, Leonsis said during a recent radio appearance on DC101’s “Elliot in the Morning” that he “would prefer to have a general manager and have the general manager work with us to hire the coach.” It’s common practice around the league because most management candidates want to have input on new coaching hires.
Jim Benning, Boston’s assistant general manager, is considered the top option in the league for a front-office post, but TSN has reported that he is likely headed to Vancouver. Several former general managers, including Mike Gillis (most recently with Vancouver), Darcy Regier (Buffalo) and Jay Feaster (Calgary) are also reportedly candidates, according to RDS in Canada.
There have been numerous rumors linking Wayne Gretzky to the Capitals, potentially in the role of president of hockey operations, which ranks higher than a general manager and is in vogue around the league. But it’s unclear if Leonsis, who declined to comment through a spokesman, is considering restructuring the front office.
Also unknown is which coaches, Trotz included, will still be available when the Capitals sort out their management hierarchy. Of the three other teams looking for a coach, Carolina and Florida also are reportedly courting Trotz. Vancouver could wind up in the mix as well.
Trotz, a native of Dauphin, Manitoba, is a direct, demanding coach but well-liked by players. His 15 seasons behind an NHL bench could be a good change for Washington, which has hired five consecutive first-time NHL head coaches dating back to 2002.
Trotz was twice a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as the league’s best coach and led the budget-conscious Predators to the playoffs seven times, although they reached the second round only twice.
In recent years, Trotz’s Nashville teams were known for their unrelenting commitment to team defense, but the coach said he doesn’t advocate a specific style of play. Trotz believes systems should be designed to make players on a roster most effective.
“I think I’m very adaptable. When we had Paul Kariya for a couple years and we were a little deeper at forward we were a pretty high-scoring team,” said Trotz of two seasons (2005-2007) in which the Predators averaged more than three goals per game. “You need balance and if you have dynamic people — I’ve always tried to assess the talent and say ‘Okay, how can we get better as a group and how can we win hockey games?’ I've played a number of different systems based on our personnel but I like the personnel to dictate the strength. In Nashville, our strength was in net and defense. So our team would take the personality of the top players and that was most often on the back end.”
Trotz is familiar with the Capitals’ organization and the Washington region. His first professional coaching job was as an assistant in 1990-91 with the Baltimore Skipjacks, then the Capitals’ AHL affiliate. He spent seven years in the organization, five as an AHL head coach, including a Calder Cup championship in 1994 after the team moved to Portland, Maine.
“I know a lot of people in [the Washington] area, I know a lot about the organization. I sort of kept tabs of them over the years and there’s some great pieces there,” Trotz said. “It’s a great city and some great players to work with.”