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Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz has a good understanding of Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber.
The two were together with the Nashville Predators from Weber’s draft day in June of 2003 through Trotz’s firing at the end of the 2013-14 season. Trotz saw the maturation of Weber from young second-round draft pick to the brawny, bearded blue liner with a howitzer of a shot. The two also have homes in Western Canada near one another and remain close off the ice.
The Habs acquired Weber for P.K. Subban in a deal that hasn’t been popularly received by Montreal fans. Trotz believes the Habs faithful will embrace Weber once he hits the ice for the team in the regular season.
“The one thing I would say is the Montreal people are getting a tremendous defenseman and a tremendous person and a tremendous teammate for the Montreal Canadiens,” Trotz said. “He brings a great pedigree. He has a couple of gold medals. He’s a great leader. He’s a strong person on and off the ice, all those things.”
Trotz has a connection to another player acquired by Montreal in the offseason. He was the only NHL head coach for Alexander Radulov. Trotz was Radulov’s coach in his first two stints in the league and then two seemed to struggle with their relationship, but Trotz thinks an older, more mature Radulov could succeed with the Habs.
“I think he’s going to come and he’s going to do very well in Montreal. I think he’s going to embrace the spotlight,” Trotz said. “He’s not a guy who is afraid of playing in a big market or a critical market so I think he’ll do fine.”
In Part II of our phone interview with Trotz, we asked him for his thoughts on Weber and Radulov in Montreal along with his assessment of the Capitals’ 2016 playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. We also wanted his take on Ukrainian Night at a junior game in his hometown of Dauphin, Manitoba last year.
Q: I feel like there’s no coach in the NHL who knows Shea Weber like you do. What will he bring to the Montreal Canadiens and do you feel bad for him that he has to replace such a popular player in P.K. Subban?
Trotz: The one thing I would say is the Montreal people are getting a tremendous defenseman and a tremendous person and a tremendous teammate for the Montreal Canadiens. He brings a great pedigree. He has a couple of gold medals. He’s a great leader. He’s a strong person on and off the ice, all those things. P.K. was beloved in Montreal. I hope the Montreal fans recognize that they traded a popular defenseman who is a very good defenseman, he won the Norris Trophy one year, but they’re getting a superstar in Shea Weber as well in return, but a different type of player. P.K. likes to carry the mail, likes to skate, is all over the ice. Shea is positionally very strong, moves the puck out, moves up with the play and finishes. He scores goals with his shot. He’s not going to make those end-to-end rushes that P.K. tries every shift. They’re totally different players. I do know this, our players who play against Shea Weber, they know Shea Weber is on the ice and he’s hard to play against. He’s a beast. P.K. is a very good player. They don’t fear P.K. for his physicality and all that. You have to worry about him getting up the ice and creating that odd-man rush, or beating you one-on-one. They’re just opposite players. I think that trade will probably be good for both. David (Poile) and Nashville seemed very happy and I know Marc Bergevin is changing his team by getting guys like Weber and Andrew Shaw. They’re putting a lot more sandpaper in their team. They’re going to get Carey Price back. I like the moves both teams made in that. I know this, that Shea Weber is a tremendous player and Montreal got a tremendous player as well as Nashville got a good player in (the trade). I think it was probably from Montreal’s standpoint is, I don’t know much about the trade other than what I read in the media. It seems like it was initiated more from the Montreal end because of the rumors that were out there. If that’s the case, they know what they wanted to do to add to the dressing room or delete from the dressing room. You have to give them credit for recognizing that and going out and doing that.
Along similar lines, I know that no coach in the NHL knows Alex Radulov like you do. Do you think he has matured from when you last saw him? What do you know of him now and what can he bring to Montreal? Have you guys buried the hatchet?
(Ed note: Trotz and the Predators suspended Radulov in the second-round of the 2012 playoffs against the Phoenix Coyotes for a curfew violation. After Nashville lost the series in five games, Radulov returned to Russia to play in the KHL)
One thing I can tell you about Rad, I don’t have anything on Rad. Mine is more disappointed in your choices. Rad is a good player and I think he’s a good guy. I spent a lot of hours with Rad. He’s tremendously talented. He’s very competitive but the game more with me was more some of the interactions sometimes where I wanted him to be really strong.
I think he’s going to come and he’s going to do very well in Montreal. I think he’s going to embrace the spotlight. He’s not a guy who is afraid of playing in a big market or a critical market so I think he’ll do fine. When I had him he was a young man. Even the second time he was a young man. I think he’s a lot older and a lot more mature and I think he still has lots of games. I think it’ll work out.
Hindsight is always 20/20, but in the 2012 Phoenix series would you guys have still suspended him now knowing how everything played out with Nashville losing in five games?
Yeah, I would. It’s a privilege to play in the playoffs. I don’t think I’d do anything different. Actually I know I wouldn’t do anything different.
The only thing I wish we would have known was we weren’t quite sure if Rad was 100 percent coming back, and the trade deadline fell where it did and we got Andrei Kostitsyn and then we got Rad. We didn’t need both. We just needed one of them. But there was nothing we could do. The timing of the trade deadline – there was nothing you could do or predict. I wish we knew more that Rad was 100 percent coming over.
Was it because they’re both big personalities or something else?
We were looking for more offense and a little more depth. When we got Andrei, Sergei (Kostitsyn) disappeared. Andrei was a strong personality and Rad gravitated to him. It ended up not being the right mix or right balance for us.
How much does your 2016 playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins gnaw at you? Your team seemed to play them more evenly than other groups in the postseason.
The shot totals ended up being pretty even in the end, but we had a couple of games we just dominated and didn’t win, like Game 3 in Pittsburgh. It gnaws at you, but you can look at it two ways. Guys get frustrated with ‘we can’t get through the second-round’ or ‘can’t get through Pitt.’ That tells you how close we are.
There are a lot of websites and a lot of different things you can check, the Corsi score and possession – Pitt dominated everybody but us in the playoffs … and even talking to the Pitt people, they said ‘no question, you guys were by far the hardest team to beat.’
We’re right there, we’re scratching the surface of getting through that next level, so I think you have to look at it that way. Where did we lose the series? We thought we lost the series last year in terms of the bottom end of our roster, the three and four lines got outplayed, but Pitt’s third-line outplayed everybody’s third and fourth line. That was their strength. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and those guys didn’t outplay Nicklas Backstrom. Evgeny Kuznetsov didn’t really put up any numbers in the playoffs in the Philly series or the Penguins series unfortunately, but I know he will. He had good success the first year in the playoffs. Last year he didn’t have great success and I’m sure he’s learned from that. We added Lars Eller who should be better offensively for us. I think our young guys, a couple of young guys can step up and play at the next level so we feel we’ve fixed a lot of our depth problems that maybe didn’t get exposed all year until the Pittsburgh series.
Everyone talked about Pittsburgh’s speed, but it’s not like you guys are slow. Did they have that success mostly with how they deployed it?
I think what Pittsburgh did against us, is their defense never made a D-to-D pass other than (Kris) Letang. They got it and they flipped it out. Their mantra was ‘as soon as the puck’s over the blueline, get it out as quick as possible’ and they would flip pucks out. They got it, hammered it out and chased it down. I was sort of joking that I used to do that when we were under siege all the time in my first year in Nashville. It was ‘when in doubt (send) it out.’ If there was any doubt on whether you could get the puck out, it had to go out and it would be flipped out somewhere and live to fight another day. They simplified their game defensively with their defense – get it and get it out quickly and don’t try to make too many plays. I thought they did a really good job. Everybody talks about their speed offensively, but the speed I found was more dangerous defensively. It allowed them to defend better because they got back quicker. They were very committed to blocking shots. They collapsed and got in the lanes and they were very committed defensively. They had good goaltending and played strong, structural defense. They were committed on all four lines. They talk about the four lines but they were also a quick start team. They led almost every game. If they won they probably led the game right from the start. Any time they got scored on first – I don’t think they were able to win as many games.
And then they deployed their third and fourth lines – some teams would say ‘how did they get so much time out of that Matt Cullen line?’ Well they had a lot of faith in Cullen and Crosby and Bonino’s line so what they would do, you’d get in the offensive zone and they would stick Cullen’s line out there. So I’m going ‘we’re down a goal, why put Mike Richards’ line out there when I could put Backstrom’s or Kuznetsov’s line out there against Cullen?’ But they were very good defensively and good on draws and that’s how they deployed their fourth-line and you would be trailing the game, so your fourth-line didn’t get a lot of time because you didn’t have the fourth-line that they did. I wasn’t putting my fourth line out when Crosby was in our end. I was going with Backstrom, so Backstrom was getting extra shifts. That happened with every series they played because their fourth line was that good defensively for them.
I know you’re a proud native of Dauphin, Manitoba, and last year they did a kielbasa toss as part of Ukrainian Night with the Dauphin Kings. Have you bugged the Capitals for a kielbasa toss promo this year?
No, no, no. We got a good chuckle out of that. It brought the town together. Culturally it filled the rink that one night and got some national recognition. I think they’ll do it again this year. You talk about ideas that sometimes are a little bit off the wall with how they bring a community or culture together and that did it.
Would you at least ask the DJ at Verizon Center to play “Who Stole the Kishka?” at some point this year?
Actually I was home in Dauphin for a couple of days and one of the people on the board there – that game they’re going to do Ukrainian sweaters, like Russian embroidery and stuff. It’s pretty funny. It’s one of those things they tried and everybody sort of probably chuckled at the time and they filled the rink that night and they had fun with it, and it sort of brings the community together, so it worked out fantastic for them. I never in a million years thought it would but it did.
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