Capitals coaches preparing 'team-first' program

Capitals coaches preparing 'team-first' program
July 24, 2014, 10:45 am
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(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

While their players are finishing up beach vacations before long sessions in the gym, the Capitals’ new coaching staff of Barry Trotz, Lane Lambert and Todd Reirden will be spending the next fee weeks packing boxes, calling moving companies and arranging delivery dates into their new homes in Virginia.

By early August the Capitals’ new coaching staff hopes to be familiarizing themselves with new surroundings and the quickest routes to Kettler Capitals Iceplex, where they will go over plans for rookie camp, training camp and an eight-game exhibition schedule that begins Sept. 21 at home against the Buffalo Sabres.

Last year, Trotz took the Nashville Predators to Florida for a week of exhibition games and team bonding designed to re-establish what he called “the Predator Way.”

In September, Trotz will begin preaching “the Capital Way” and it begins, he says, with his coaching staff.

“I can tell you this,” Trotz said. “If you’re dysfunctional in the coaches’ office, you will be dysfunctional.

“Players are smart. When it comes to reading stuff and body language and team chemistry, players sniff that out. So you better be on the same page. A coaching staff has to come out unified and if you’re not, players sniff that out easily.”

During their first full week working together at the Caps’ development camp, the Capitals coaching staff spoke often about the culture they want to instill.

What, exactly, is that culture?

“It’s team first,” Lambert said. “You’re able to count on the guy on each side of you and the guy across the room from you. There’s a lot of togetherness, a lot of team-oriented concepts we work on.”

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When Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen and Justin Peters signed with the Capitals on July 1, all three said Trotz and his coaching staff were big reasons for their decisions to come to Washington. That, and the window of opportunity that appears to be wide open with players like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green in their prime.

Lambert acknowledged that it easier to establish a culture with newly drafted 18- and 19-year-olds. The challenge, he said, will be changing the way 25 NHL players feel about the way they approach their jobs.

“Older players, they’re willing to learn, too,” Lambert said. “They’re willing to do what it takes to develop into a winning organization, which this organization has been, but there will be subtle changes.”

Whether Trotz takes his team to the Naval Academy in Annapolis,  through a zip line obstacle course in Rockville, Md., or somewhere completely different, the emphasis this September will be on trust, accountability and creating a family that can win together.

“I always say that if you want to go fast, go alone,” Trotz said. “But if you want to go far, go as a group.”