After not making the playoffs last season for the first time in seven years, the Washington Capitals are returning with a new head coach. Barry Trotz was previously with the Nashville Predators for 15 seasons, and this year he hopes to take the Caps to the postseason.
Trotz is the record holder for most games coached by the first coach of a National Hockey League (NHL) expansion franchise with the Nashville Predators. He left his position with a record 557 wins and 479 losses. During his 15 seasons as coach, the team missed the playoffs eight times.
Outside of the NHL, Trotz coached the Canadian team in the World Championship, taking the gold medal in 2003 and silver medal in 2009. Trotz has a history with the Caps dating as far back as when he worked with then director of recruitment, Jack Button, at an American Hockey League (AHL) training camp.
Looking ahead at the season, Trotz will have to learn how to coach veteran players like Alex Ovechkin. In an interview with the Washington Post on coaching Ovechkin, former head coach Adam Oates said, “The biggest challenge is you’re fighting a lot of years of habit.”
Oates had only been an assistant coach for two years before he became the 16th head coach of the Capitals in 2012. Trotz, on the other hand, has more than 15 seasons of experience in the NHL. Regarding the upcoming season, freshman Emi Wheeler said, “I think with the new coach and the new players they will do a better job.”
All eyes will be on the Trotz-Ovechkin relationship this season. Ovechkin, who is returning for his tenth year on the team, will start off from the right wing, but Trotz says that he is going to be able to play both. “Me and Ovi have a good relationship,” said Trotz in a recent interview with the Washington Post. “The one thing that is sometimes misunderstood is Ovi really wants to win something, and not personally. He’s won almost every trophy individually, but he wants to win something in Washington. We’ve got the opportunity to do that, to do something together.”
Trotz recognizes the importance of a successful mentorship with Ovechkin and hopes to channel that relationship towards a successful season. “He wants to do that,” said Trotz on Ovechkin. “He’s been really good. He’s bought in. He’s been diligent. He’s eager. What he does, I can’t teach. He realizes that there’s still lots of good talent here in Washington, and we hopefully can do something good.”
If the Capitals expect to make it to the playoffs this season, they will have to rely on the leadership of coaches and veteran players. How Trotz and Ovechkin will cooperate remains to be seen.
Mike Harrington, head athletic trainer at Washington-Lee, said, “When it comes to the Caps they have definitely become more of a whole with the moral being much better. Trotz is very supportive of everything and encourages the guys to do things as a team outside of hockey. I think this will play off well and make for a great season.”
The Caps ended their preseason on October 5 with a victory against the division rivals the Philadelphia Flyers with 3-2. Along with the Flyers,they beat the Carolina Hurricanes with 5-2. Strengths from the pre-season included strong third and fourth lines coming off the bench as well as a potent goal scoring offense. But setbacks included a tendency to give up leads and Brandon Holtby’s inconsistently at times, which may give Justin Peters a starting job in a game down the road.
The Capitals made the playoffs five straight seasons from 2007-2013, winning the Metropolitan division each one of those years, even having the best record in hockey. But they never got out of the first round, coming against rival Pittsburgh Penguins. Building off of past downfalls, having the best record in hockey does not mean success for the Caps come the very unpredictable NHL playoff season.
Trotz brings experience for the Caps, as well as playoff experience. Ovechkin had an MVP caliber 2014 season, scoring 51 goals, but finishing second in the voting. He will lead the offense and head their attacks during the season, hoping change in D.C. leads to a playoff revival.