Trotz vs Ovechkin: May The Games Begin

Barry Trotz (Icon SMI)

Barry Trotz (Icon SMI)

Alexander Ovechkin finished the 2013-14 season with 51 goals, 79 points and a mind-boggling -35 rating. The star Russian winger thrived in the scoring statistical category under former head coach Adam Oates for the first time since the 2010-11 season when Bruce Boudreau was head coach. Oates had a heavy influence on the Capitals’ power-play system that finished 2nd in the league. Ovechkin licked his chops and took advantage of the opportunity, scoring nearly half (24) of his goals last season with the man advantage.

However, Oates is no longer in charge and a new brain in Barry Trotz has stepped into the fold that will challenge not only Ovechkin’s style of play, but his mental toughness to adjust.

Since entering the NHL in 2005, Ovechkin has been treated like royalty in the Capitals’ organization and has lately gained the persona of being a “coach killer”. The Capitals have gone through three coaches since 2011 — Boudreau, Dale Hunter and Oates. Coincidentally, Ovechkin had a decrease in offensive production during the seasons of the coaching carousel. Trotz now has the honor of going through the coaching gauntlet in Washington puppeteered by “Alexander the Great”.

“Ovi was the one who set this franchise forward when he came in,” Trotz said. “I will have a conversation with Ovi on his role with the group and how I would like to play. And we’ll decide that together. [I need to] put him in a situation where he is successful with the [rest of the] group. He is going to be a part of the team.

“He does something special — he scores a lot — but can contribute in so many other ways. My job as a coach is to allow Alex and the rest of the team to reach their full potential as a group. My job is to get everyone to play well together.”

Trotz seems to fully understand Ovechkin’s past with coaches and their disagreements with each other. In an attempt to avoid a similar mess in the locker room and on the bench, Trotz is going to build a special bond with him.

“It starts with a relationship. I know I’m going to work at that, but it can’t happen until I have a relationship with him because there’s no trust. To me, Alex has to trust I’m giving him the best of advice for the team and for him to grow his game. I don’t know Alex. I know going against him what he does well. I need to know Alex the person.

“Coaching isn’t about X’s and O’s, it’s about people. He comes from a different culture than the guys from Canada or the States. You find that the Swedish culture is different than Czech culture. I’ve got to know what these guys are about. They have got to know that I’m about winning. I’m about them.

“When I take over a team, they’re part of my family. That’s how I look at them. I’m not always happy with my kids. I yell at them but I still love them. They’re still part of the group. That’s how I approach it. I’m a family guy. I don’t have any problems voicing my opinion to anybody on the team, but I also can let things go pretty easy. I don’t hold grudges. I may not like the way you played that shift or that game; I’ll let you know and let’s get to work tomorrow and get it right.”

Trotz still wants Ovechkin to play an offensive style, but he will demand a defensive presence as well. For example (shown below), the lackluster back-checking from the captain allowed the New York Rangers to score an easy goal.

Will that type of play be tolerated by Trotz? Not one bit. During the third period of a March 17, 2013 game against the Edmonton Oilers, Predators’ forward Sergei Kostitsyn ridiculously went off for a line change while the Oilers went on a shorthanded odd-man rush that resulted in a goal seconds later. Trotz responded to Kostitsyn by scratching him the following game. The precedent has been set by Trotz, no matter what team he is coaching for.

“When you are in your own end, you need to have some accountability and some structure. You can teach that. We just need balance.

“The foundation is going to be hard work.”

Ovechkin will have to break the stereotypical Russian laziness to succeed under his new coach. With new general manager Brian MacLellan working hand-in-hand with Trotz, Ovechkin will no longer have “daddy” to run and tattle to when things do not go his way. If the situation gets sour between Ovi and Trotz, the Moscow native could resort to playing in Russia with the KHL, something Trotz knows a thing or two about (Alexander Radulov, twice).

Quotes via Monumental Network and 102.5 The Game:


Colin Fitts
Currently living in Nashville, TN, Colin covers the Nashville Predators, a team he has followed since the day he was born. Colin is on the path of having a career in sports journalism. You can follow him on Twitter, @FittsTHW. Email: 22fitts [at] gmail [dot] com.
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14 Comments

  1. Pingback: Q & A With Former NHLer Cliff Ronning

  2. Cheers. Good luck with your writing endeavors.

  3. No, I wouldn’t call myself a lip reader, but that is the general consensus as to what he said from the media and fans.

    I’m quite familiar with Trotz, since I’ve been a loyal Preds follower from Day 1. It can either really well or really bad between Trotz and Ovi. Trotz is a no BS coach and I loved him for that. I also loved that he got the most our of fringe NHLers, who barely made the team. On the other hand, I always felt he didn’t get the best from the elite scorers when it was presented to them, especially if they were not from North America. When Radulov and AK46 arrived, it was very iffy offensively. Neither played to their potential, IMO. However, Ovi is a bit more committed than those two to the NHL, wouldn’t you say? So, it is a toss up to how things unfold in DC.

    I appreciate your insight, thoughts and opinions bud. Cheers!

  4. So you are a lip reader? No way to tell that is what he said. He definitely said something but what do you want him to do? Fall asleep on the bench like Phil Kessel. He has alot of pride and alot of emotion. Its what makes him so good. Your first example is more assumptions on your part.

    Your second example regarding Boudreau is no good either. More assumptions. If no one said Ovi was the reason, then how can you just assume it was? Boudreau was fired because he went into panic mode during a long losing skid and completely changed the system (unsuccessfully). No one on the Caps team bought into it and all that coupled with Boudreau’s inability to find success in the playoffs in years prior lead to his firing. The system should never had been changed, as the Caps were not really playing poorly enough to warrant it. There is assumptions among the fan base that McPhee instigated the change and Boudreau took the fall when it didnt work out.

    You are correct about Hunter. He left because he has a good thing going in London. I was sorry to see him go, but his style, although moderately effective, did not match the personnel he inherited.

    Oates was fired because he was completely incompetent as a head coach. Even Doug McClean said Oates’ next job should be as an assistant again so he can re-learn how to be a Head Coach. If it weren’t for his work with Ovechkin and the PP Adam would have been gone long ago. His calling out of Ovie after that Dallas game was legitament, but also the death knell for him. Embarassing Leonsis 9mil/year investment was not a good idea. He secured his fate by moving fourth liner Beagle up to Ovie’s line for the final five games or so when the Caps were still in the playoff race. It was a move that completely nullified both players. If you ever want to site an example of putting a nail in your own coffin, go straight to Adam Oates.

    You can find lots of quotes to the media from all sorts of Caps players about Oates lack of team identity. Brouwer cut Oates up even before he was fired. Laich questioned Adam as well. But no Ovi. Maybe he should have. He was the Captain.

    McPhee didnt say anything about anyone and is notorious in Caps circles for dancing around questions and just being very cryptic overall. Again, you cant just assume that he was just dying to say anything bad about Ovechkin.

    Now, just so we are clear, I am a Caps fan -for over 25 painful years- and I am an Ovechkin fan…but not a big fan. He put my team on the map, and when he wants to be he can be awesome. But he has big holes in his game, I know. But he’s not a pout, a prima Donna, or a coach killer. You should have a look at how many “zero experience” coaches McPhee hired during his tenure. I think Barry Trotz is the first one with any NHL experience since 1997 when they hired Ron Wilson. That means Trotz will be the first coach Oveckin has ever had I the NHL that brings a pedigree to the table. I look forward to what Trotz can do with the Caps. I hope he toughens them up and can help Give Ovechkin assignments that harken back to his wrecking ball days.

  5. No worries.

    We can start here when Boudreau benched Ovi in the final minutes of a 2011 November game. Ovi called his coach a “fat f*ck” just a few weeks prior to his firing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=fbmRKVJWEB8

    There was an obvious strained relationship in that locker room. While Boudreau won’t admit that he doesn’t believe Ovechkin was reason for his firing because he is a classy guy, it was part of the reason. GM/owners need to make the super star happy so he can score and fill seats.

    Given, Hunter did “quit to focus on family time”, he and Ovi didn’t have the best relationship either. Hunter cut Ovi’s average TOI 1:32 (2 or 3 shifts a game) from the previous season. The reason? He wanted players out there who could prevent goals from being scored in big time situations.

    After the news of Oates being fired and McPhee not getting a contract extension as GM, McPhee did not want to talk about Ovechkin and Oates to the Canadian Press (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/hockey/mcphee-refuses-to-discuss-ovechkin-oates-on-his-way-out-of-washington/article18310016/). “I don’t really want to answer questions about individuals. I’m going to duck those,” McPhee replied when Ovechkin’s name was first brought up.

    Shady, wouldn’t you say? Of course there is a history between the two. Oates wasn’t shy when calling Ovi out. As a proud athlete, maybe Ovi felt disrespected.

  6. Twice you have been asked to substantiate your claims with hard evidence and twice you have not even acknowledged the subject.

    You can spin SK’s stats and contibutions any way you like but he never became an integral part of any roster. His one point per three games in 2012-13 is memorable only because it is the only year of his career he was actually suited up every game. Neither Kos brother will see NHL ice again, and no GM will care.

    Now about that proof I requested……

    Your creedence as a legit journalist is fading fast.

  7. Trotz relied heavily on him. He was a top 6 forward on the team and was only 10 points behind the forwards scoring leader.

    Also, you don’t believe he has “quit” on his coaches?

  8. Do you not research anything? SK had a total of 15 points in 12-13. Still think he was Trotz’ go to guy for offense? He has never even played more than 60 games in a non-shortened season. That’s fringe. You might be getting him mixed up with his slightly more successful brother, Alexie.

    Ovechkin has happily played a different system for each coach that he has had. He blocked shots for Hunter and played the other side of the ice for Boudreau and Hanlon. He even adapted to Boudreau’s short lived and ill-conceived shut down style during the end of his tenure as coach. Show me one instance where he complained to anyone. Show me one shred of evidence of him going to ‘Daddy’.

    You can’t. So go read that article by RMNB that “Actual Hockey Fan” pointed out. But be careful; it’s full of facts.

  9. Brian, Ovechkin was coachable in a system that worked for him. It will be likely be a challenge under Trotz.

    Also, calling Kostitsyn a fringe player at that time with the Predators is laughable. He was the top scorer on the team, I do believe.

  10. The precedent has been set? Really? Because a fringe player got benched for a game? C’mon man.

    Where is your proof of Ovi running to Daddy? Why didnt you cite Oates’ recent interview where he labels Alex as “very coachable”?

    North American media loves to dump on this guy because he’s big, mean and skilled, and worst of all; he’s Russian! Plus, he is way more charismatic on and off the ice than the Canadian wunderkind, Crosby.

    Do some real research next time and leave this psuedo journalism in the trash were it belongs.

  11. No fear of Russians from this writer. I was one of the biggest supporters of Valeri Nichushkin since the draft.

  12. Canadian anti-Russian bias. What a surprise. What’s a little xenophobia among alleged professionals?

  13. No, I did not call all Russian hockey players lazy, but the stereotype in North America is that they are simply lazy. Now, that is certainly not true in all cases across the board, which is why it is labeled as a “stereotype”, rather than fact.

    And sure, I understand Ovechkin has put the blame on himself for what occurred last season, but he still didn’t do anything about it. It was a classy act, but it means nothing until something is done. Maybe next season we see change. Until then, a fact is fact — Ovechkin is lazy on the backcheck.

    This piece was not about how lazy Ovechkin is. It was about the potential clashing between opposite minds.

    Nevertheless, I appreciate your feedback and would enjoy a discussion with you.

  14. Actual Hockey Fan says:

    Wow, way to touch on every single hockey writer narrative about Ovi. It is like you aggravated everything the canadian press has written, paid no attention to explanations or counter arguments, balled them all together , and churned out this. Try reading RMNBs piece on the -35. Also try not to play up xenophobia amongst hockey writers. We know it is there, but to blatantly call Russians lazy is ridiculous. Yes, I know you used the the word stereotype to cover your ass, but we all know what you are saying.

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