Plenty of questions for Capitals' next head coach

Plenty of questions for Capitals' next head coach
May 25, 2014, 2:00 pm
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(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Anyone who has seen this video chronicling the family life of Barry Trotz can testify to his character as a husband and father of four children, the youngest of whom has Down’s Syndrome.

Those who have played for Trotz say that same strength and character is evident in his coaching style.

“He’s a great coach,” Capitals veteran right wing Joel Ward said of Trotz last month after learning he had been fired after 16 years as the head coach of the Nashville Predators. “A great man.”

Trotz reportedly is close to finalizing an agreement that would make him the Capitals’ next head coach.

If that’s the case he will face several pressing questions about a lineup that for the first time in seven seasons failed to make the Stanley Cup playoffs. Here are just a few:

How would he handle Alex Ovechkin?

This might be the No. 1 question for every coaching candidate interested in coming to Washington. The Caps’ 28-year-old captain will be working under his fifth NHL coach in nine seasons.

Ovechkin had a good relationship with Adam Oates, who found a way for him to get enough scoring opportunities as a right wing to lead the NHL in goals two seasons in a row. But Ovechkin also was a liability defensively with a career-worst minus-35 this season.

Trotz is known as an excellent communicator whose experience with star forwards was limited in Nashville to players like Paul Kariya and Peter Forsberg. It is possible Trotz would employ a strategy similar to Dale Hunter, keeping Ovechkin off the ice late in games the Capitals own a lead.

The difference is that Trotz would be more likely to explain his reasoning to Ovechkin during training camp so that his apparent “benching” would not become an issue during the season. Trotz would not be the first coach to seek accountability from the Caps' star captain, but he might be the first to demand it.

[RELATED: If Trotz becomes coach, who is GM?]

What kind of system would Trotz play?

Known in Nashville as a defense-first coach, Trotz has made it clear in multiple interviews that he can play a style that best fits the talent on his roster. The Predators [38-32-12] finished with the same number of points [88] as the Capitals [38-30-14] last season. But while the Caps were outscored 240-235, the Predators were outscored 242-216.

In fact, Trotz’ teams routinely finished in the bottom half of the NHL in goal scoring, ranking 30th in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. With stud defensemen like Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, Trotz encouraged his blue liners to carry the puck up the ice and look for plays in the offensive zone, a different philosophy than the one preached by Oates, who wanted his defensemen to move the puck quickly to the Caps’ forwards.

Trotz’ teams in Nashville were known for their structured style of play, something the Capitals failed to develop under Oates. Ward and defenseman Jack Hillen, as well as former Capitals forward Marty Erat, played under Trotz and all three spoke of how consistent and predictable the Predators were in playing his system, which at times has been described as boring.

Trotz would also bring an added measure of defensive responsibility and player accountability, another trait lacking under previous Caps coaches.

Would Trotz likely bring his own assistant coaches?

As of now, Blaine Fosythe, Calle Johansson and Olie Kolzig are all on staff with the Capitals, but that could change if Trotz takes over.

It’s been reported that Claude Noel, former head coach of the Winnipeg Jets, would be considered as an assistant if Trotz took the job in Washington. Noel might also be a candidate for the head coaching vacancy of the Hershey Bears, who lost Mike Haviland to the college ranks earlier this month. Noel played for the Bears and briefly for the Capitals in the late 1970s.

Trotz could also coax goaltending coach Mitch Korn from Nashville. Korn also spent 16 years with the Nashville organization and has been credited with the development of goaltenders Tomas Vokoun, Pekka Rinne, Chris Mason and Dan Ellis. He also worked with former Sabres netminder Dominik Hasek when the two were together in Buffalo.  

What kind of person is Trotz?

It’s hard to find anyone in the hockey world that has a bad thing to say about Trotz. Even Predators general manager David Poile offered him an advisory position with the Predators after not re-signing him as coach.

“He has been the face and voice of our team for 15 years,” Poile said. “He created, developed and lived The Predator Way – on the ice, in the office and in the community. There could be no finer ambassador for the Predators or Nashville than Barry Trotz. He has laid a foundation and culture that will benefit the next coach of the Nashville Predators.”

Predators chairman Tom Cigarran was equally complimentary, saying, “Barry is an exceptional person and coach. We wish him the very best going forward.”

In fact, one of the hardest decisions Trotz may make in his career is leaving the Nashville area, where he raised his children, for another NHL city.