The night before he was introduced as the fourth Washington Capitals head coach in as many years, Barry Trotz stayed up late chatting with his new boss. He and General Manager Brian MacLellan would be introduced together the following afternoon, during a crowded news conference at Verizon Center, and the anticipation drew them together to discuss philosophy as Monday leaked into Tuesday.
“When you get excited, things racing in your head, I couldn’t go to sleep,” Trotz said. “It’s three in the morning and I couldn’t go to sleep.”
He arrived in Washington plenty awake Tuesday, fresh from a visit to the team’s practice facility in Arlington, where he watched some future players work out, several of whom sat beside the table as Trotz smiled before the television cameras.
Six weeks had passed since the Nashville Predators announced that Trotz, the only head coach in their history, would not return for a 17th season. At first, Trotz considered taking time off, getting away from the game. Nashville General Manager David Poile had also offered him a front-office job, but Trotz decided he wanted to coach. And since the Capitals called almost immediately after the Predators decided Trotz’s fate, six weeks offered plenty opportunity for rejuvenation.
“Six weeks for me is an eternity, so I’m really refreshed right now, actually,” Trotz said. “I think coaches time off mentally, you need to get away from it for a bit. I think it makes you better. It makes you hungry. I think that was really great [Poile] did that for me right away and got me on the market right away and basically had six weeks. Once we’re done here, I can start working and meeting some who are in place now.”
As a former member of the Capitals organization, scouting for Washington in the late 1980s and coaching the team’s minor league affiliate in Baltimore, and later Portland, Maine, his two final stops before taking over the expansion franchise in Tennessee, Trotz is familiar enough with the area. It’s part of the reason why, after interviewing the Washington’s front office and learning of the mutual interest, he told his agent, “Do what you can to get me here.”
But with the NHL draft exactly one month away and free agency officially beginning not long after, Trotz has plenty on his plate. He needs to find a new home. He has co-workers to meet and players to call. But above all else, based on the rhetoric during a 40-minute news conference with Trotz, MacLellan, owner Ted Leonsis and team President Dick Patrick, as well as a 30-minute group session with reporters, Trotz has a new culture to instill.
“Every good team, players, they’ll tell you they want accountability,” Trotz said. “Any foundation, you look at the four teams who are playing in the [Stanley Cup] final, they’re hard-working, hard-to-play-against teams. We want to get to that level.
“And the foundation is going to be hard work. There’s enough skill here. The accountability, not only to the coach but to each other. I think that’s more important. The core, the answer to us going really far is in the group. If you want to go fast, you go by yourself. If you want to go far, you go with the group. And this group has a lot of capabilities to go forward.”
Among the other items Trotz addressed Tuesday (check tomorrow’s print edition for a story about reconciling his defense-first teams in Nashville with the more offensive-minded Capitals, including star Alex Ovechkin):
>> MacLellan played a significant role in hiring Trotz, given that the new general manager found out he had been promoted from assistant general manager roughly one week ago. Trotz, for his part, comes from Nashville, where he and Poile developed a tight relationship, and expressed enthusiasm about his dealings with MacLellan thus far.
“We’ve spent a lot of time together in a very short time,” he said. “We do have a lot of the same visions in almost every aspect. What happens when you get two hockey guys, he’s been a little on the inside and has his view of what’s here and I’m an outsider and we maybe do something different in Nashville. We’re just throwing ideas at each other. What that does is, hey, there’s some things Washington is much better in certain areas and vice versa. What that does is make the organization better … We’re pretty close. It’s really good right now, because we can do something really, hopefully special together.”
>> Read colleague Katie Carrera here on MacLellan’s thoughts about developing young talent, but Trotz touched on the issue too.
Without naming specific players, unlike MacLellan, Trotz said he would prefer to have young talent produce and receive ice time regardless of level, then climb the ladder.
“With younger players, the longer you can have them be in a situation where they’re playing high minutes at a high level and producing, then that’s the right seat for them,” Trotz said. “If they fail to do that, then the last thing I want is for a young player to be put in a position that he can’t produce and he’s losing his confidence. You don’t need that.”
>> The matter of his coaching staff remains undecided, and Trotz declined to offer comment on Tuesday.
“My only thoughts are number one, all existing staff, I’ve already started to reach out to them,” he said. “There’s some really quality people and I know them. I know some of the people I recall. I don’t really have any comment on that because I’m not in a position to do that. I really want to find out where they are, what their thoughts on going forward and all that. I’ve got to meet with them first before I can answer that honestly.”
>> And how soon does he think the Capitals can contend for a Stanley Cup?
“I think with a couple of adjustments that Mac has mentioned, and some of the things that we’re capable of, I don’t see why you can’t be in that mix right away,” Trotz said. “There’s enough ability here to forge a little bit of an identity going forward. We talked about work ethic and consistency and all that. It’s going to be a group effort. There’s so many peaks and valleys that happen during a National Hockey League season. That’s part of learning how to be resilient. There’s so many things. But there’s a pretty good group here. I think you can compete. You’ve got to get in, and once you get in, you’re competing for it.”