Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz sees a chance for growth with his NHL team in the World Cup of Hockey.
Trotz, who will be a Team Canada assistant, can learn from the rest of the staff, which includes Stanley Cup winners.
It’s an opportunity for some of Trotz’s own assistant coaches in Washington to get a better grasp on what it’s like to be an NHL head coach with Trotz out during training camp.
For some players on Washington not going to the World Cup, it’s a chance to grab a larger leadership role with some of the bigger-named players at the tournament.
“I think anything that you take on in this business or in life, you look at it as an opportunity,” Trotz said.
Despite this optimism there are questions on how the tournament, which includes eight players from the team, will affect the Capitals as they head into one of their most important seasons in franchise history. There’s a sense of unfinished business with the group after it led the NHL in points in 2015-16 before being ousted in the second-round of the playoffs by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Will the World Cup ignite the Caps’ players before the season? Or will it tire them out? Last season the Caps weren’t at their best heading into the playoffs, and Trotz wants to make sure they finish strong.
“The tournament is going to be intense, and they’re ahead of schedule, and it’s a long year,” Trotz said, adding that he plans to give players involved in the World Cup some time off before rejoining the Caps for the rest of camp.
In Part I of our recent phone interview with Trotz, we talked about the World Cup, learning from Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock and following Alex Ovechkin on social media in the summer.
Q: Have you tried to approach this summer differently than a normal NHL season since you’ll be joining Team Canada for the World Cup of Hockey?
Trotz: I think you go into knowing you have to serve two masters a little bit. The way I’ve approached it is when we finished last year (with Washington), we talk about correcting the things that we needed and making a laundry list of things we have to address and do that. We’ve done that, right after the season ended and then right around the two weeks during development camp and the draft, we met as a staff and did some stuff on that. I probably, in terms of preparation and all the other stuff, I’ve been probably about three weeks ahead of where I usually am, knowing that I’m going to meet with my staff the last week before I go. Everything is pretty well done. It’s just tweaking things and then tweaking the responsibilities of coaches during training camp, because we’re not here. And then working on Team Canada projects that Babs has given us roles with the team and making sure our areas are buttoned up and ready to go, because we’re going to hit the ground running because we have three or four practices, three exhibition games and then we’re right into the tournament so we want to have things buttoned down. Babs is really proactive on giving us assignments. One thing I’ve learned from all my time with Team Canada is that they’re very, very prepared so knowing that’s part of the DNA of Team Canada, you have to be prepared with whatever area your responsibility belongs to. I’ve been doing a lot of that. The summer is a little shorter. I’ve put in a lot of extra work – you put in as much as you want I guess, but me personally I want to make sure I’m ready to go so I put in a lot of extra hours and a lot of extra work so I’m prepared.
Do you wish you spent more time preparing for the NHL season? Your team is in its window of opportunity and it’s such a big year for the Caps organization as a whole.
I think anything that you take on in this business or in life, you look at it as an opportunity. For the Capitals, we feel we’re a legitimate contender just as the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks and a number of teams feel. I always think every year there’s eight contenders and eight, I want to say, not so much contenders. And then there’s the rest, so I look at it as an opportunity for my staff to grow. What really matters for us? Obviously we have to make the playoffs but it’s really going to matter how we end the season, not how we start it. For us, I think we have a really strong leadership group. I’ve talked to the leadership group in terms of their responsibilities at camp because we’re going to miss a lot of our core guys. We have some great people like Jay Beagle and Karl Alzner that will be there that can really drive this group. Justin Williams as well, so I’ve actually reached out to asked them to really drive this group. I know it’s not going to be – when you’re missing eight of your top guys the quality’s probably not going to be as high as you like it, but at the same time it’s a great opportunity to take a real, firm leadership role. I think we established a lot of really good things. From a coaching staff perspective, it allows them to grow, maybe a guy like Todd (Reirden) or Lane (Lambert) getting opportunities to deal more with you guys in the media. They’re all capable as head coaches, all three of them, so I don’t really have any worries. We’re a prepared staff and a good staff, I’m just going to give them responsibilities. We’re going to go over that. They’re going to get them done, and we’re going to make sure we’re all on the same page in terms of who’s in charge of what. I have to put someone in charge here while I’m gone. You have to put your ego aside a little bit and move one.
So how exactly are things divided up with your staff?
We’re pretty prepared and pretty detailed, so all I need to do is put someone in charge to execute these. I’ve got my preseason rosters and when we meet we’re going to go over the first part of camp – who I want to play together. For example, what I’m trying to say is Lars Eller for instance. He’s probably going to play with Justin Williams for instance and they’re probably going to – and Marcus Johansson is here. I’m going to come up with say four guys, four of our better players, I’m going to put two of the better players on the line, and then I’m going to say ‘I want to see Brett Connolly and say Stan Galiev.’ They’re both skilled players, they’re both young players, and play them with the highest-end guys that we have. And when guys start filtering back, we have a plan for that and then the last plan for the last four games that we have … I would say for the most part where we make our decisions on our lines. I have an idea what I would start for lines and our power play groupings and our bump up group so that we can have everybody have roles and distinct roles going into camp. We have to put our depth in order. I’m going to rely on those guys to sort of put our depth in order. Give me the list of order of our depth.
How are you planning on keeping up with your staff during the World Cup?
I think every day I’m going to talk to the point guy – whoever I put on point. I’m going to touch base with him every day. I think that’s probably the same with every coach in the World Cup. I couldn’t imagine guys not checking in by the end of the day.
What’s it like being an accomplished NHL coach and having to take orders from Mike Babcock? Do you have to sort of check your ego at the door?
I think it’s a good learning experience. When you do something or when you sign up for something, I think you have to have a protocol in terms of whatever the head coach wants in terms of knowing your role or whatever. I think you check your ego in and as long as – I think it’s fine as long as there’s good respect because we’re all head coaches and we’re all quite accomplished head coaches as you say that I think you handle it professionally. It’s ‘hey, we’re here to win a tournament. My job is to do this. If you want me to run a certain area of the game, I’m running it. Here’s my responsibilities and I’m going to give you my opinions and my best in those areas.’
Is there anything specific you can learn from Mike Babcock in this setting?
Oh yeah, I’ve learned stuff from him in terms of preparation. I’m very, very prepared. How he handles his staff – he doesn’t waste a lot of time on stuff. He knows what he wants and he’s putting it in play. The great thing about what we’ve done with our staff is we all learn from each other. When you sign up for Team Canada, we look for the best way to do things, plain and simple. We do the best things from the Washington Capitals, the best things from the Chicago Blackhawks (with Joel Quenneville), the best things from the Boston Bruins (with Claude Julien) and the best things from the Toronto Maple Leafs and how do you do things so we’re on the same page. We’re all learning. To me it’s trying to get better. When you surround yourself with some of the best in the business you can only get better.
Are you worried about fatigue for any of your eight players going to the World Cup?
The tournament is going to be intense, and they’re ahead of schedule, and it’s a long year. The only thing I’ve told them is, ‘once your team is knocked out, you get one day to fly and three days off if you want. If not, I’ll see you at camp.’ On the fourth day they have to be back and they do the testing and all the stuff we do at training camp. They’ll be in great shape but they’ll go through all the normal stuff. They all want to be held accountable with their teammates, so I don’t have any problems with that.
Moving onto the Caps, it seems like Alex Ovechkin is doing something hilarious on social media at least once a week during the offseason, whether it’s playing basketball or rollerblading. Do you follow that? Do you try to stay away?
To me, I don’t have to follow it because everybody lets me know, so I really don’t have to follow it, but I think one thing I learned from Ovi is he does – the funny thing is there are some guys who are very guarded and everybody says they’re boring and what have you. There are other guys that aren’t as guarded and Ovi isn’t as guarded. He’s just Ovi. I’m fine with it. He’s being himself. I don’t think he’s trying to be anybody he’s not. He’s just Ovi and that’s something you should like. He has some personality and some flair. As long as that doesn’t get in the way of his preparation to be the player he needs to be – he puts the work in and puts all that in and it’s fine. I’m totally fine with that.
I saw him rollerblading there. He was rollerblading and the rest of his crew and his fiancée were on bikes and following him. He could have rode a bike too, but he’s skating. I’m OK with that.
A video posted by Alexander Ovechkin (@aleksandrovechkinofficial) on Aug 7, 2016 at 8:46am PDT
How did you get through to him? Was there an element of letting him be himself and just being OK with that to a degree?
No, I think I put some rules in place and he’s OK with rules.
How we do things – it was a little looser here, like when you train and how you trained. They were sort of on their own. That was mandated that you get to do your own stuff. I brought sort of the team aspect. It was ‘team warm-up? We’re all warming up. Team workout? We’re all working out’ and stuff like that.
He loves that actually because there’s a bunch of guys and he gets to interact the whole time. Other guys are competitive. They’re very smart and very competitive, so they work hard. He liked those changes that I made. At first he questioned them because it wasn’t the way it was done before and he got to do them and he loves it.
With changing wings I just want to use his best assets and he’s an offensive player who can do some great things on his off wing I think offensively. If you just work at defense, I can teach you defense. I can’t teach you the stuff you can do and score a gazillion goals like he can. I can’t teach him that. I don’t think anybody can.
I said, ‘I want you to do what you do, but when you don’t have the puck I want you to do what I want you to do so we can get it back more so you have it more and you can score more.’
That’s putting it in pretty simple terms for a goal scorer
Goal scorers are always sniffing things out, but once they realize ‘hey, if I don’t have the puck I can’t score’ then you have to be a part of the solution so you can get it back so you can score.
He’s good that way. I have no problem. He’s killed late in games for me and all different stuff. He’s been good. I don’t have too many problems with Alex.
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