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Capitals owner says new regime 'in total sync'

by Adam Vingan

ARLINGTON, Va. – In entering the first phase of what was termed an organizational refresh earlier this offseason, it was imperative to Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis that all facets of management were aligned.

"You need to be totally in sync [with new coach Barry Trotz]," Leonsis recalled telling general manager Brian MacLellan upon promoting him in May. "With the players that we sign, the players that we draft, you have to be in total sync."

Two months into the Capitals' new regime, Leonsis has seen his directives carried out to his satisfaction.

"So far, so good on that," he said Saturday. "I think that's a good move in a positive direction to have the organization all singing from the same songbook."

Such cohesiveness in Washington has been noticeably absent in recent seasons.

Constant coaching turnover and the distinct stylistic approaches that have accompanied those changes have hindered the Capitals' on-ice performance.

Last season marked the low point of the Capitals' evolution into perennial contenders. Washington, which Leonsis once proclaimed would make the Stanley Cup Playoffs "10 to 15 years in a row," did not qualify for the first time since 2007.

When Trotz was hired, the Capitals trumpeted his longevity with the Nashville Predators, who he coached for 15 seasons.

His previous NHL coaching experience, demanding nature and defensive structure were all characteristics missing at times in Washington.

"I've been very impressed," Leonsis said of Trotz. "As a new coach but someone who's been around the League for a long, long time, he's totally enabled to do what he thinks [is] best. It's been great to just watch how organized he is.

"I think the tonality is going to be very fast and he wants you to work really, really hard when you're on the ice. He wants our best players to be the first ones here and the last ones off the ice. He's going to be very diligent in that."

Trotz, Washington's fourth coach in less than three calendar years, has used development camp this week to implement his culture. He intends to foster a familial atmosphere within a locker room laden with individual talent.

"When you come in, you've got different voices, everybody sometimes gets on pins and needles," Trotz said. "I didn't want that. I wanted a cohesive group. … Everybody's excited and there's a lot of energy, good energy in the organization right now."

To supply Trotz with the best available roster, management determined that retooling the Capitals' defense was where their emphasis should lie.

Ownership committed a combined $67.75 million to former Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen Brooks Orpik (five years, $27.5 million) and Matt Niskanen (seven years, $40.25 million), giving the Capitals what Leonsis called "the deepest defensive corps that we've had since I've owned the team."

Washington also solidified its faith in starting goaltender Braden Holtby, opting to sign a less-experienced backup, Justin Peters, from the Carolina Hurricanes, as opposed to someone more seasoned.

Working in tandem with new goaltending coach and long-time Trotz confidant Mitch Korn, the Capitals are confident Holtby will return to form after a season when he struggled to adapt to a less-aggressive approach recommended by former coach Adam Oates.

The forwards are led by Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, but the Capitals lost free-agent center Mikhail Grabovski to the New York Islanders. Grabovski was the only forward who appeared in at least 41 games last season to have a Corsi-for percentage of better than 50 percent at even strength, according to

MacLellan previously offered Evgeny Kuznetsov, Brooks Laich and Marcus Johansson as potential in-house replacements, but did not rule out acquiring a center to provide more depth.

With numerous changes already made and potentially more to come, the Capitals are eager to prove that last season was an aberration.

"Just the feel for the direction they were headed and what they're trying to do, it just felt that this is a really good thing for this organization," said Niskanen, describing what enticed him to sign with the Capitals. "They've got the pieces. We can put something together and go on a run or two and be together for a while, and I'm really excited about that opportunity. The team we have here has an opportunity to win, and that's the most attractive thing."

Throughout development camp, Capitals prospects wore shirts with a simple message emblazoned across the back: "Earned. Never given."

That will also serve as the mission statement for Trotz with the Capitals.

"The message," he said earlier this week, "is, 'I'm changing things.'"

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