During the 1998-99 season, the expansion Nashville Predators played their inaugural season in the NHL. Led by current Caps head coach Barry Trotz, the Preds — with a hodgepodge group of veterans and middling prospects — won only 28 of 82 games, finishing the season as the second-worst team in the Western Conference. Cliff Ronning was the team’s leading scorer (53 points), Tom Fitzgerald was the team’s captain, and Jamie Heward led all Predators defensemen in points.
With that experience behind him, Trotz scoffed at calling the Vegas Golden Knights, the West’s top team through 50 games, an expansion franchise Thursday after practice. The Capitals will play the Golden Knights for the second time this season on Sunday. They lost 3-0 during their first meeting in Las Vegas.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) February 1, 2018
“They’re not a real expansion team just to let you know,” Trotz said smiling. “Real expansion teams don’t have 33 wins after  games. That’s the new expansion. But the old expansion is more like the 10-win Washington Capitals teams.
A reporter later pointed out that Capitals team won only eight games in its inaugural season.
“Eight. I was trying to make it better,” Trotz retorted.
During the Capitals first game against the Golden Knights, Vegas jumped early on the reigning Presidents’ Trophy-winning team, scoring three times in the first 14:55 of the game.
“They’re deep in all areas,” Trotz said. “They’ve got three legitimate scoring lines. Their first line has a 26-goal scorer, an 18-goal scorer, and a 13 goal-scorer — something like that. Their second line is not quite similar but they’re in double digits. They come at you. They’ve got some pretty good defense; They’ve got excellent goaltending. They have an unbelievable belief and they can skate and pressure. They’re locked in as a group. To me, the things you can’t put numbers on — obviously you can put numbers on wins and losses and analytics and all of that — but when you’re an expansion team, what they have going for them… It’s not a true expansion team. I met most of my guys in the press box in my expansion year. They weren’t playing. They were sitting in the press box. It was hard to pick a team that way.
“This team is put together,” Trotz continued. “Obviously, they weren’t protected. And so there’s that bond. The tragedy in Vegas has really solidified it to get them to the next level as a group. They’re a proud group. They play as one unit. They’re relentless. They find ways to win. And there’s no pressure on them. It’s all gravy. They just play. They’ve been playing with house money from day one, really. Everyone looked at that team and said ‘they might make the playoffs.’ As a coach, when they picked their team, we were all talking and thought they would be in the playoff hunt right to the end. They might make it. They might not. They’re actually doing much better. They’re leading the league, so they’re not bad.”
Trotz then brought up the Golden Knights’ miraculous comeback against the Calgary Flames on Wednesday.
“I watched the end of the game in Calgary,” Trotz said. “It looked like they weren’t going to win. Calgary’s up 2-1. All of a sudden they score three goals in 48 seconds and they win in regulation and Calgary was stunned. They have something special going on.”
During his chat with the press, Trotz also revealed a conversation he had with former Capital Nate Schmidt after he told the defenseman he had been selected in the expansion draft.
“The one thing I said to Smitty when he got picked up and I called him, ‘You’re going to be part of something very special. It’s the only time probably in your career and many people – you are the first. What you do, what stamp you put on that city or group, that’ll be a bond forever.’
“I know a lot of the guys around the first expansion team, we’re still all in contact and friends,” Trotz continued. “It’s hard to explain because you’re part of something very, very special that only one group will get a chance to do. [Vegas is] taking total advantage of it right now and having a blast. When you’re an expansion group, you love coming to the rink every day. Because it’s fun. As I said, it’s house money because expectations aren’t very high. You’ve got a chip on your shoulder. Everything’s brand new. Everything from your locker room to your fans, everything is new so it doesn’t get stale on you.”
As Trotz ended his press conference, he hammered his point home that he didn’t think the Golden Knights were a real expansion team by doing air quotes.
“They’re living the dream right now, leading the NHL historically as an (does air quotes) ‘expansion team’ as you say,” Trotz said to laughter. “If you’re a true expansion team you wouldn’t be on the top of the pile, you’d probably be on the bottom of the pile.
“They’ve done a hell of a job and they’re fun to watch. They play a real good team game. They pressure the hell out of you and they force you into mistakes. They’re never out of it.”
Thursday night, the Golden Knights won an NHL record 34th game for an expansion franchise.
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) February 2, 2018
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) February 2, 2018
Headline photo: @Capitals
S/T to NHL.com’s Brian McNally for first tweeting part of Trotz’s comments.
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
All original content on russianmachineneverbreaks.com is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)– unless otherwise stated or superseded by another license. You are free to share, copy, and remix this content so long as it is attributed, done for noncommercial purposes, and done so under a license similar to this one.