LAS VEGAS — Just two weeks have passed since Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom were last in Sin City, the night they hoisted the Stanley Cup for the first time. As Ovechkin prepared to leave the T-Mobile Arena ice after the Washington Capitals’ first championship in franchise history, he lifted the Cup over his head and yelled, “Thank you, Vegas,” before returning to the locker room for a champagne-soaked celebration with his teammates and coach.
“Great memories, great town,” Ovechkin said at the NHL Awards on Wednesday night. “What happens in Vegas stay in Vegas, but Stanley Cup stay with us forever, so it’s pretty cool.”
The Capitals may prefer to stay frozen in that moment, but this week has reminded that change is inevitable. Barry Trotz resigned as Washington’s coach on Monday, catching both Ovechkin and Backstrom by surprise. Speaking for the first time since Trotz’s stunning decision, Ovechkin and Backstrom expressed gratitude to Trotz for the impact he made on them.
“It’s hard when it happen right away, you know?” Ovechkin said. “First of all, thanks for him to be with us, to give us a chance to win the Cup. All of what he did was only for the team, not for personal-wise. But I’m pretty sure he will be fine and he will find what he wants. It’s sad, but it’s a business.”
Said Backstrom: “Something you can’t take away from Barry is what he’s done to this team. Him and the coaching staff has been doing a tremendous job to just get us together. He’s been schooling us good these four years and we got a good finish out of it. . . . Hopefully there’s no hard feelings. He’s always going to be remembered in Washington as a champion, which is great, which he deserves.”
Trotz seemed to have a significant influence on Ovechkin, who became a more defensively responsible player under the coach’s tutelage and scored at least 49 goals in three of their four seasons together. Just last week, Trotz mentioned a conversation with Ovechkin in which the captain had re-watched a game from the Capitals’ first-round series against the Blue Jackets and lamented being a few feet out of position. Ovechkin’s impressive playoff numbers — 15 goals and 12 assists — earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy as the postseason’s most valuable player. His league-leading 49 regular-season goals earned him a seventh Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy at the league awards in Vegas on Wednesday.
“He’s been very good for me,” Ovechkin said of Trotz. “We’ve been back and forth all the time, you know? He was hard on me. He give me very good advice because he have experience and that’s the whole thing. When the coach know who you are and know how to use you, you just feel great.”
The Capitals’ next coach might be similarly familiar with the team. Associate coach Todd Reirden is the overwhelming favorite to replace Trotz, and General Manager Brian MacLellan said Reirden would be formally interviewed, though he didn’t have a specific time frame for when new coach will be named.
“I feel like the whole coaching staff has been doing a great job over these years to teach us whatever it is — penalty kill, five-on-five,” Backstrom said. “All of them has an input on everything, which makes it probably easier for him. And he knows us too as guys, which is going to help him if that’s the case.”
“If it’s Todd, I’m sure lots of guys, everybody, going to be really happy,” Ovechkin said. “He’s a guy who’s a very good communicator, very good specialist and have lots of respect from us.”
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