Unless your name is Lindy Ruff, it’s hard to imagine how Barry Trotz will feel when he steps behind the Washington Capitals bench for the 2014-15 season.
Will it be like the first day at a new school? That doesn’t do it justice. It’s the equivalent of changing schools after spending 15 years in one class, with one teacher. The Nashville Predators were all Trotz had ever known as a head coach, and vice versa. He and GM David Poile had been joined at the hip since the dawn of the franchise in 1998-99.
“When you’re there in one spot from day one, forming a lot of the culture, making a lot of decisions in a lot of areas when you’re an expansion team, it’s basically four empty walls,” Trotz says. “Being there 17 years, making Nashville your home, and all of a sudden you’re going somewhere else, it is a little bit surreal. At the same time, it’s invigorating.”
The marriage between Trotz and Poile ended amicably. It’s not like Nashville finished last overall and Poile angrily showed Trotz the door amid public calls for the coach’s head. The Preds only missed the playoffs by three points after a late-season surge, but it was simply time for something new.
“It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, you know, I’m done here,’ or David saying, ‘Hey, you’re not doing a good job, ‘ ” Trotz says. “It was just, they needed a little change, and it was time. You can see that, by the way we split it, both sides were very kind to each other and still remain friends.”
Peter Laviolette now helms what will be a more up-tempo Music City team, while defense-minded Trotz will try to improve a Washington squad ranking in bottom half of the NHL in goals against three seasons running. It’s an especially challenging task, because this isn’t a low-stakes hire for a team openly rebuilding and not expecting to contend for years. The Caps lack an identity and still intend to push for the playoffs next season, relying on Alex Ovechkin as their star. They hope Evgeny Kuznetsov becomes an impact NHL forward in his first full season, that Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer or some free agent gives them reliable goaltending, that John Carlson continues to develop as a workhorse blueliner. Owner Ted Leonsis’ oustings of coach Adam Oates and GM George McPhee says the Caps knew the situation was broke – but this team intends to fix it immediately.