On his third day as the Washington Capitals’ new coach, Barry Trotz returned to his hotel across the street from the team’s practice facility at 8 a.m. “I’ve been at Kettler for a couple hours already,” he said. No more calling in to radio stations or interviewing on television. Finally, it was time to work.
For Trotz, his wife, Kim, and their family, the top priority has been searching for a new home; his busy schedule is peppered with real estate meetings and school visits. But after 15 seasons with the Nashville Predators, there are pressing hockey issues for Trotz, too. Current players to meet and staff members to evaluate. Prospects to draft, trades to mull and free agents to entertain. A new organization to learn. He was supposed to fly out Friday, but there was simply too much to do.
“I’ve been all over the place,” Trotz said Thursday. “I just don’t want to miss anything. Not enough hours in the day.”
Trotz plans to spend the next several weeks getting to know his new team. He wants to meet with video coaches, trainers, strength coaches and assistant coaches, with the multipronged goal of introducing himself, relaying his vision and assessing the need for change. It was too early to discuss specifics, he said, but he left open the possibility of bringing old co-workers from Nashville.
“I don’t know yet,” said Trotz, who also declined to comment when asked about his contract’s length and salary, citing team policy. “Usually you do because you have a familiarity. I have to see where there’s holes or what I perceive that are holes, if we can improve any area in any way. I do things a little different than [former coach] Adam [Oates] did. Just trying to figure out who had what and why.”
On the ice, the Capitals are projected to have 20 players under contract for the 2014-15 season. Their combined salaries will leave roughly $15 million of salary cap space, according to CapGeek.com, a Web site that tracks the league’s cap. This offers flexibility to re-sign center Mikhail Grabovski, the team’s only unrestricted free agent expected to be courted, and address needs elsewhere.
In Nashville, with a payroll consistently ranking among the league’s lowest, Trotz thrived with defensemen and goaltender development, reaching the playoffs in seven of eight seasons before a two-year lull forced him away. Now he inherits a Capitals roster built for offensive talents like Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
Among his new pieces, Trotz supported goaltender Braden Holtby, who struggled with confidence issues last season. He called defensemen John Carlson, Mike Green, Karl Alzner and Dmitry Orlov “really good people” but said the group needed more consistency around the net.
Up front, Trotz felt the Capitals forwards needed to incorporate “a little more detail in their game,” such as going harder during puck battles, and referred to Backstrom as the team’s “best all-around player.”
Though free agency officially starts July 1, the league’s latest collective bargaining agreement affords an extended interview window starting June 25, two days before the NHL draft in Philadelphia. There, the Capitals pick 13th, last in the lottery.
“Barry will have a lot of ideas on how to fix things from within,” said Keith Jones, an NBC hockey analyst who played for Trotz with the American Hockey League’s Baltimore Skipjacks, an old Capitals affiliate. “I don’t think it’s as critical as it may appear, these next two weeks, that they come up with some rabbit out of the hat. That’s not going to happen.”
With their family summer home located in British Columbia, Trotz also plans to package trips visiting those Capitals he missed this week in D.C. For instance, a graduation speech at College of Notre Dame in Saskatchewan, his former school, also means seeing forward Brooks Laich nearby. After that, he will return to Washington, help run developmental camp and continue an integration process that should extend well into the summer.
“I think I’ve got a good understanding of how they play and most guys how they play,” Trotz said. “But until you have that player day in and day out, you don’t know. 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.’ ”