First impressions of Barry Trotz
Photo by Amanda Bowen, RRGB Photography
When the Caps hired Barry Trotz as their head coach this offseason, he hardly needed an introduction to local hockey fans. Trotz has ties to the area and the organization, having coached the Baltimore Skipjacks and Portland Pirates in the early 90’s. In 1997, Trotz was hired as coach of the Nashville Predators, where he stayed until being let go at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season. Trotz has coached 1,196 regular season games, good for 14th all-time.
While it’s far too early to start drawing conclusions about Trotz’s job performance here in DC, first impressions have already been made before the season has already started. I, for one, am impressed and encouraged by Trotz’s work so far. Here are 3 things Trotz has done to impress me thus far.
1) Troz has made it clear that Braden Holtby is his #1 goalie.
In our season preview, I talked about why I expect big things from Holtby this year. Last season, Holtby appeared to lose his confidence at times and was benched for lengthy periods of time by former Head Coach Adam Oates. This was despite the fact that Holtby, in a “down” year, still finished 8th in the NHL in 5-on-5 save% among goalies who appeared in at least 41 games. For perspective, 8th place put Holtby just a touch below Henrik Lundqvist. It appears that the ruining of Holtby is over and on its way to being repaired. The new regime instantly named Holtby their #1. They’ve also brought in the greatest goalie coach in the world, Mitch Korn. The signing of Justin Peters makes it even more clear that Trotz and company are full speed ahead with Holtby as their starter. This is such a breath of fresh air after the Oates regime and their treatment of Holtby.
2) Despite a crowded blue line, Nate Schmidt made the Opening Night Roster
The Caps have a logjam on the blue line. When healthy, they have a clearly established top 6 that doesn’t even include veterans John Erskine and Jack Hillen. After this, the Caps have younger players who have seen some playing time over the past two seasons, such as Tomas Kundratek, Steve Oleksy, Connor Carrick, Patrick Wey, and Nate Schmidt. With such a crowd, comprised of so many veterans, it would be understandable if these younger players got lost in the bunch in the limited time their new coach had to evaluate them. Schmidt standing out enough in Trotz’s eyes to make the club is a good sign.
For some reason, despite being one of the better possession players on the team last season during his time in Washington, Schmidt did get lost in the crowd and spent far more time in Hershey than he should have.
Puck possession is important. Nate Schmidt was one of only 3 Caps defensemen last year who improved the team’s possession play with him on the ice vs. with him off the ice. He may get sent back down to Hershey once the team begins to get healthy, but the fact that he is on Trotz’s radar and seemingly pretty high up the depth chart is encouraging.
3) Eric Fehr is getting the first crack to play alongside Nick Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin
If you’ve read this blog, or any number of others Caps blogs, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we’re thrilled to see Fehr on the top line to start the season. Simply put, he’s the best option. When healthy, Fehr showcases the hands that one would expect from a first round pick. He’s got size but can still move. Oh, and his possession numbers when playing with Backstrom and Ovechkin make him the best option to play with them, by far. Fehr thinks it’s wise to bet booze on the fact that he’ll score 15 or more goals this year. I agree.
It’s the start of a new season. While I was highly critical of a certain offseason signing, I’m feeling optimistic about the Caps chances to have a bounce back year. One of the main reasons for this is that my first impression of Barry Trotz is that his reputation as a stellar NHL coach is well deserved.