Photo: Bruce Bennett
During a wide-ranging interview with Igor Rabiner of Sports-Express , Barry Trotz talked about what it’s like to coach four Russians and one of the best players in the history of the game.
Trotz touched on how Alex Ovechkin can hold onto his unique scoring touch — and if he does, get “very close” to Wayne Gretzky’s goal-scoring record.
“Can he do it? Yes,” Trotz said. “But as he gets older, Alex will need to pay even more attention to every little hockey detail, starting with post-game recovery. But Ovechkin is a special athlete, an extraordinary talent. He has a gift from above to score goals.”
Do you understand why in the beginning of his career Ovechkin was getting 50 assists per season, but now regularly comes in under 30? Why is he still winning Richard Trophy, but no longer a contender for the top point producer spot?
Barry Trotz: He is more of a pure goal scorer, his calling is to shoot, and when he has a choice between a shot and a pass, he almost always choses the former. Besides, he has one of the best passers in the NHL next to him – Nick Backstrom.
At the same time, I consider him to be an underrated passer. I have to admit: I didn’t even realize how good of a passer he was until I came to the Capitals. And if we are going to try to look to pass more, then someone on his line needs to take on a bigger role as a shooter.
Do you think Ovechkin can threaten the “forever” goal-scoring record which belongs to Wayne Gretzky?
Barry Trotz: In this era, when goal scoring is as difficult as it has ever been, Alex keeps on scoring more often than anybody else in the league. As far as I remember, his contract with us runs for another six years. If he can continue his goal scoring pace and score another 300 goals, he is going to get very close to Gretzky.
Can he do it? Yes. But as he gets older, Alex will need to pay even more attention to every little hockey detail, starting with post-game recovery. But Ovechkin is a special athlete, an extraordinary talent. He has a gift from above to score goals.
Did you make Ovechkin a different player in any way since you came to Washington? Has he learned anything about hockey he did not know?
Barry Trotz: I think, if I was able to help Alex, it was the following. He has an incredible talent. But he needed a better understanding of what the role of the leader of a team is. And as far as pure hockey aspects – how to get the puck more often and better. Sometimes you wait for the puck, and it does not come. We talked about it.
The first thing we talked about with Alex after I came to the team – when he has the puck, he can do whatever he wants. But when we don’t have the puck, we will have a very good plan how to get it back. And he needs to become an integral part of that plan. Because that is how he’ll have the puck more often.
We still talk about these things. For me to tell him what to do with the puck would be dumb and crazy – for example, to dump it in. Not only is he great with the puck, his decision making and productivity are excellent. The last thing I want to do is to deprive him of his freedom. But when it comes to getting the puck back, Ovi’s job is to be a part of the team mechanism.
Was there a risk in relying on Dmitry Orlov as one of the main attacking defensemen when Mike Green left for Detroit as a free agent? He did miss the whole season because of his wrist injury.
Barry Trotz: We lost Green, and we needed for someone to step in and replace him. Orly broke his wrist at Worlds in 2014, and amissed a whole season, because he needed to complete his recovery and prevent any possible relapse. So it was difficult. But it made sense to give him a chance. We don’t have much room under the salary cap, so we have to rely on our own reserves.
In the beginning of the season there was a lot of unnecessary garbage in his game. This was quite understandable, because he missed a lot of time and did not have a full range in his wrist. But we knew he was going to regain his form and remained patient. Decision making, execution, defensive play – all returned to normal. So today I can say that he did a great job replacing Green, and turned into a tremendous player, a very important one for us.
Aside from the spot on the team power-play unit, has he earned a right to be among the team’s top 4 defensemen, even when Carlson returns to the line up?
Barry Trotz: In the beginning, we had two options for the number 4 defenseman – Brooks Orpik, who is bigger, stronger, and more stay at home type, and Orlov. At the same time we realized that in reality we have five really solid defensemen, and we can do different things depending on the score. And then Carlson got injured, and we put him together with Orpik. But regardless, to answer your question whether he earned himself a spot among the top four: yes.
Who has been your best player this season? Ovechkin? Kuznetsov? Braden Holtby?
Barry Trotz: If you look at the whole season, I will probably say Holtby. Ovi, Kuzy, and Backy would join him on my top 4. But they have a terrific supporting cast.
Given your great experience with Russian players this season, would you like to consider another one – Alexander Radulov, who played for you in Nashville? His contract with CSKA runs out after this season.
Barry Trotz: [Laughing] I know Radu very well; I spent a lot of time with him. Anything is possible! I love Russian players. My son works as an English teacher in Russia, in the city of Vladimir. If a guy fits into two categories – “a good player” and “a good person,” he’ll have no problems playing for my team.
The fourth Russian on the Capitals, Stanislav Galiev, shifts between the fourth line and a healthy scratch. Are you happy with him?
Barry Trotz: Yes, he is working very hard. Obviously, we have a great depth, and he doesn’t get a chance as often as we would like. But his attitude and his work ethics are terrific. Galiev is probably the young player who will enter the lineup on a permanent basis next season.
To see what Trotz had to say about Evgeny Kuznetsov, read Part I of the translation.
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