ARLINGTON, Va. – Barry Trotz was late for an appointment because he was at the DMV, getting his first Virginia driver’s license and plates. His son is enrolled in school, and he’s lived in his new house long enough for the air conditioning to break down. He’s not a Tennessee resident for the first time in 17 years, and the life upheaval was such that he didn’t take his usual summer vacation in British Columbia.
And all that was more or less the easy part. Now he has to deal with Alex Ovechkin.
Trotz is the new coach of the Washington Capitals, which means first and foremost he is the coach of the immensely talented three-time league MVP whose individual accolades have yet to translate into substantial playoff success. Things will be plenty different for everyone when training camp opens Friday, but what arguably matters most is how No. 8 takes to yet another attempt to change the way he plays.
“Physically, he’s a strong guy,” Trotz said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But there’s areas in his game he needs to grow in, and that’s really my job, to help him grow his game.”
Trotz is Washington’s fifth coach since Ovechkin entered the league in 2005, but he’s the first who has been a head coach elsewhere in the NHL. He led the Nashville Predators from inception to this year, with 1,246 regular season and playoff games under his belt. He has an established idea how he wants to run a team—he’s already rejigged the coaches’ meeting room with more cutting-edge technology and made it more of a “war room.” He has so much cache that he was able to give owner Ted Leonsis a frank assessment of the Capitals’ deficiencies while interviewing for the job.
“It’s the culture,” Trotz said. “I just think a little bit of the inmates were running the asylum, that’s No. 1. I think there’s good talent, and I felt it needed some order.”
That’s not a dig at one particular player or front office person, but Ovechkin, as team captain, would be a central figure in any sort of culture change. Trotz praised the Russian forward’s passion, desire and individual accomplishments—but said there needs to be more.
“If Ovi is willing to listen,” Trotz said, “he’s going to have a chance to do some great team things. And he is willing to listen. I don’t see any reason in my discussions (with him) that he’s not willing to change. Now change is going to be sometimes difficult for people at times, but the willingness to change, I don’t see that being a problem.”
Ovechkin led the NHL with 51 goals last season, but his plus-minus of minus-35 was third-worst in the league. Looking at the tape, Trotz sees too much staying in place.
“Everybody goes after Ovi for probably his defensive game and some of those commitments, and, yeah, there can be improvement,” Trotz said. “And I’ve said to him, I just want him skating again. I always think he’s just dynamic when he’s skating. So I just asked him, be in really good shape, be ready to skate, because you’re not dangerous when you’re standing still.”
Trotz said he wants to retain the offensive potential shown by Ovechkin and the Capitals while introducing some of the defensive principles that worked well with the Predators.
“I want the Capitals to not lose their identity of being able to score,” Trotz said. “But I want them to add another identity that they’re hard to play against and they’re hard to score against. If we can add that to the repertoire, then we’d be a pretty good team.”
Ovechkin was moved from left wing to right wing under previous coach Adam Oates. Trotz said he might use Ovechkin on both sides.
“If he’s playing the game that I envision him being able to play, then I can see him playing left wing—and I can throw him on the right wing on another line,” Trotz said. “To me, he’s more dangerous on the left. … Defensively, he’s probably better on the right.”
No one would forgive the Capitals players for being fatigued with change, having switched systems several times in recent years under coaches Bruce Boudreau, Dale Hunter and Oates. Trotz’s message: Get over it.
“To be honest, a lot of times systems are a little bit of a cop-out,” he said. “If you’re a good player, it doesn’t matter what system you’re playing, you should be able to play it. I think they use it as an excuse. If you’re at this level and you can’t figure out your role, then you probably shouldn’t be in this league.”
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