The Washington Capitals' brain trust of owner Ted Leonsis and president Dick Patrick must not allow the hiring of a general manager to overshadow the hiring of a head coach.
The pressure-packed search for a GM has many qualified candidates, as I detailed in my column last week. Add to that list the name of Ray Shero, the former GM for the rival Pittsburgh Penguins as of May 16. With Shero, there are at least 12 GM candidates to choose from.
The equally important search for a head coach, on the other hand, has decidedly fewer candidates. Thankfully, the most prominent candidate is also the best fit for the job.
On May 12, Katie Carrera of The Washington Post wrote that Trotz "has earned a reputation as a demanding, no-nonsense bench boss who is also well-liked and respected by players."
In addition, Trotz compiled some strong numbers during his extensive time in Nashville. Take a look at Trotz's rank among active coaches, as well as his rank among all NHL coaches:
And now for his postseason ranks, which are decidedly less impressive:
These numbers may not look like much, even though Trotz was nominated for the Jack Adams Award on two separate occasions. However, Katie Carrera pointed out that Trotz was coaching "a budget-minded team that wasn’t spending to the salary cap," a fact that may put some Capitals fans at ease.
But another fact will be rather disconcerting to the DC faithful.
The Nashville Predators did not score a lot of goals under Barry Trotz. Case in point: Nashville finished in the bottom half of the league in goal scoring in 11 of the 15 seasons that Trotz coached in Nashville. Furthermore, the Preds finished in the bottom third of the league in goal scoring in eight of those 11 seasons.
Trotz himself addressed this criticism when he spoke to Carrera on May 12:
I think I’m very adaptable. When we had Paul Kariya for a couple years and we were a little deeper at forward we were a pretty high scoring team. You need balance and if you have dynamic people – I’ve always tried to assess the talent and say ‘Okay, how can we get better as a group and how can we win hockey games?’ I’ve played a number of different systems based on our personnel but I like the personnel to dictate the strength. In Nashville, our strength was in net and defense. So our team would take the personality of the top players and that was most often on the back end.
Despite this explanation, I know for certain that some Capitals fans will bemoan the fact that Trotz is even being considered as the team's next head coach. These detractors will cite Trotz's track record of coaching offensively challenged hockey teams while predicting that his presence behind the Capitals' bench will negatively affect the offensive output of one Alex Ovechkin.
Who should the Caps hire as their next head coach?
I've grown sick and tired of reading comments on various websites over the past two years in which Capitals fans have bashed the short (but successful) tenure of another defensive-minded head coach by the name of Dale Hunter.
Hunter shackled the immense offensive talents of the team's captain and best player, causing the worst slump of Ovechkin's career as he scored only 38 goals in 2011-12.
Never mind that Ovechkin was already slumping—under the guidance of the great Bruce Boudreau, no less. Gabby, an offensive wizard as a head coach, was forced to alter his coaching style to a more defensive approach only after the 2010-11 season, when Ovechkin scored just 32 goals. That still stands as the lowest total in Ovechkin's career when counting 82-game seasons.
Shortsighted Caps fans don't seem to care. They only care that Ovechkin did not win the third Hart Trophy of his career or return to the 50-goal plateau until Hunter and his defense-first mentality had left DC.
If my memory serves me correctly (and it does), the Capitals under the defensive-minded Dale Hunter won seven playoff games. And that was in one year. Meanwhile, the Capitals under the offensive-minded Adam Oates won three playoff games in one trip to the postseason. And that was over the course of two years.
It quickly becomes obvious that Capitals fans who choose to criticize defensive-minded coaches have their priorities mixed up. They are seemingly more intent on seeing Alex Ovechkin fill his trophy case at the detriment of the team as a whole. I, for one, would rather see the Washington Capitals fill their trophy case instead.
Barry Trotz needs the opportunity to prove that the two are not mutually exclusive.
Note: All statistics courtesy of Hockey-Reference.com unless noted otherwise.