The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Barry Trotz interested in Capitals’ coaching vacancy, eager for next challenge

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

It hasn’t even been a month since he was fired by the Nashville Predators but Barry Trotz is eager to embrace his next coaching challenge — and it could come in Washington.

The Capitals contacted Trotz, who is arguably the most coveted coach currently on the market, not long after they dismissed Adam Oates and George McPhee in late April, and there is mutual interest.

“They 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 said in a phone interview. “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.”

The Capitals are far from the only ones interested in the Dauphin, Manitoba, native. Of the three other teams looking for a head coach, Florida and Carolina have both reportedly spoken with Trotz. Vancouver, which like Washington is also in need of a general manager, could be in the mix too.

While Washington hasn’t ruled out the possibility of hiring a coach first, owner Ted 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.” Trotz’s comments would indicate that is the path the Capitals are currently on, because as much as he wants to coach again he doesn’t anticipate a quick process.

“Every team is a little different [with the timeline]. Some teams are still in the general manager search, some teams are taking their time, they’ve made changes and are reassessing where they are as a group,” Trotz said. “I don’t expect anything to happen or really to get going until the end of this month and the first part of June.”

Trotz, 51, has earned a reputation as a demanding, no-nonsense bench boss who is also well-liked and respected by players. He also has 15 seasons of NHL head coaching experience, which many believe is important to the Capitals, whose last five hires were all first-time NHL head coaches.

He’s also familiar with the organization and area because the Capitals gave Trotz his first pro-level coaching job back in 1990-91 when he was hired as an assistant coach of their AHL affiliate the Baltimore Skipjacks. After two years, Trotz took over as head coach and spent five years with Baltimore and, when the team moved, the Portland (Maine) Pirates. He led Portland to a Calder Cup Championship in 1994.

In 15 seasons with Nashville, Trotz was a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as the league’s best coach twice and the Predators reached the playoffs seven times, but they advanced to the second round only twice.

A budget-minded team that wasn’t spending to the salary cap, the Predators were most known for their blue-collar approach and team-wide commitment to defense during Trotz’s tenure. He doesn’t view himself as having a set style of play, though, and believes systems should be tailored to make the best use of players.

“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,” Trotz said, referencing 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.”

While it is tough in certain ways for him to move on after spending so many years with the Predators and immersed in the Nashville community, Trotz is looking forward to joining a new organization and continuing to build upon all that he learned as a coach so far.

“That’s the exciting thing about it, it’s an opportunity to grow,” Trotz said. “Hopefully my time in Nashville has helped me. We’ve had a lot of different things happen to our hockey club, seen a lot of different situations and different types of clubs from an expansion team to a Stanley Cup playoff threat. I think any coach that’s gone through those things, you become a better coach. I think I’m a lot better coach now than I was in 1997. All those experiences allow you to filter out what’s important and what’s not.

“As coach you’re in a partnership with the players. They are their own brands and you’ve got to get them to be their best and at the same time they’ve got to work as a collective group to try and accomplish something special. That’s what you’re expected to do as a coach, get pieces to buy into the program, get everybody in the right seats and then start driving in the right direction as a group. When you get everybody going in the right direction you can do some great things and that’s in any business. It’s easy to be good, it’s hard to be great….When I look at it, you’re teaching 23 but you’re coaching probably six or seven [players] and that’s your core. Your core as a coach really determines where you’re going to go, and if you can manage that core really well the rest will follow.”