Capitals' Trotz returns to Nashville for All-Star Game

Friday, 01.29.2016 / 3:00 AM
Katie Brown  - Correspondent

ARLINGTON, Va. -- If Barry Trotz isn't the founding father of hockey in Nashville, he's pretty close.

Now in his second season with the Washington Capitals, Trotz gets to return to where it all started this weekend as coach of the Metropolitan Division in the 2016 Honda NHL All-Star Game on Sunday (5 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

The trip provides an opportunity for Trotz to reflect on how far things have come for the Nashville Predators and the city.

"To me, it'll be sort of fulfilling in the fact that when I started there back in '97, to be honest with you, we didn't know if we were going to make it or not in a nontraditional market," Trotz said. "The franchise is healthy. And the city, they'll do a fantastic show. I was there from Day One and I will tell you that they will probably put on the best All-Star Game the NHL has ever seen."

Trotz was there from the beginning with the Predators as an expansion franchise, hired in 1997 by general manager David Poile, and led Nashville to seven Stanley Cup Playoff appearances before moving on in 2014.

"He still has a huge emotional attachment to Nashville," Capitals forward Brooks Laich said. "It's sort of like a coming back home for him. To be sitting on top of the standings is a little feather in the cap. But just to be honored to be in the All-Star Game and to do it in front of the Nashville faithful, he's going to be extremely excited, and it's a proud moment for him."

Though Trotz has been back to Nashville once with the Capitals since leaving the Predators, this time he won't have to worry about coaching a regular-season game. It's a chance for him to appreciate the organization he and Poile built.

"I got very blessed and fortunate to be in one spot for so long. But I got to come in on the ground floor," Trotz said. "I learned a lot from David Poile on how to build a franchise, basically. I went to Hockey School 101, or Franchise School 101. I understand the big picture of everything, from setting up a franchise to drafting players, development programs, coaching a team and building a franchise and building in a nontraditional market where you had to teach the game."

While Nashville was learning the game, Poile and Trotz were working to build a competitive and successful team.

"When we first went there hockey wasn't a staple in Nashville," Trotz said. "Now it is a big part of the fabric of Nashville. A lot of people, when they first got the franchise, were going, 'Well, what are they doing down there?' You [can't] think about Nashville without thinking about the Predators now, and that [wasn't] the case 20 years ago. You got to be a part of something that you didn't know it was going to last, and now it's very stable and they have a great franchise."

Even though Trotz has been in Washington for a year and a half, the Capitals understand how much Nashville means to him.

"With starting up the franchise and building it to becoming a competitive hockey team and putting in 15 years, that's a lot of blood, sweat and tears and commitment. And not only on the ice, but you get roots off the ice in that amount of time too," Laich said.

From team-building trips to plaques with motivational quotes on the walls and slogans on T-shirts and baseball caps, Trotz has brought a unique approach, much of which he learned with the Predators, to the Capitals. So far it has been working; Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov (replacing Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin) and Braden Holtby are with Trotz for All-Star Weekend, and the Capitals are atop the NHL standings.

"He's brought a lot of those kinds of things to us," Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said. "They bring the team together more than I've seen before. I don't know where he goes, if it's online or what, but he finds a good saying that's going to relate to where we are in the season or a game or how our attitude is and tries to work it into his speech."

Even though Trotz made the playoffs seven times with the Predators they never advanced past the second round. With Washington he's in a position to go further than he ever has with a legitimate Cup contender.

"We had some talented teams, a couple of teams we had in Nashville, but they probably weren't as deep [as the Capitals]," Trotz said. "We were always lacking the top-end centermen. We never really had that. I would say this is the most skilled team I've ever had."

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