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Trotz energized by new challenges with Capitals

by Dan Rosen's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday during the regular season and every other Tuesday during the offseason. We talk to key figures in the game today and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.

The latest edition features Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz:

To say Barry Trotz is re-energized might be the understatement of the offseason.

After 15 seasons with the Nashville Predators, Trotz is in the process of closing his home in Tennessee so he can fill his new home in Arlington, Va. He lived the coach's dream, being in one city long enough that some of his kids could go from first grade through college without moving. Now he gets to start over, and that has provided him with energy and impatience this offseason.

"You're coming to a new organization and they don't know how you do things, so you have to go through the teaching mode," Trotz told "You want to have your stamp. You're meeting new people. There's new energy. You're forging new relationships. To me those things really motivate me to get everything in place and get going."

Trotz has been working toward that goal this summer by poring over film and stats to learn as much as he can about the players he has in Washington. He has met personally with many of them, including captain Alex Ovechkin.

Trotz's meeting with Ovechkin last month is where the following Q&A begins. It extends into questions that led to his thoughts on Washington's seemingly endless search for a second-line center and the futures of two budding stars on his new roster.

Here are Five Questions with … Barry Trotz:

You went to Las Vegas when Alex Ovechkin was there for the NHL Awards to sit down with him, have dinner with him, get to know him. Why was it important for you at the time to sit down with Ovechkin, and what did you learn from the meeting?

"You're not going to go to battle with someone you don't know. It doesn't matter what walk of life it is, whether it's business or in war. In sports it's usually a coach and player, so he understands where I'm coming from and at the same time the player recognizes where you're coming from so you get a comfort level and you can work together better. If we're going to be successful in Washington, [Ovechkin] has to be a big part of that. It's not only him, but he's a main component, a big personality, and I have to sell my vision of the team to him because he's one of the top players. In today's sport, coaches are in a partnership with their top players.

"I think it went OK. I learned a lot from that, how he thinks and how he sees the world. I know he comes from a different culture and I learned about how he views himself, how he views his job with the team. It was good. I told him what I expected. I had a bunch of questions written down and we sort of went through them. I didn't know if there would be a language barrier so I made him read the questions and try to answer them. We had some dialogue. I learned about his family, who is important in his life.

"Every player is wired differently. Some players you know exactly where they're headed, where they're going and what they're thinking. There are other guys wired differently. It allowed me to understand the personality of Alexander Ovechkin. He's been the face of the Caps for the past eight or nine years, since he's been drafted. He gets a lot of the credit when they do well and he gets a lot of the blame when they don't, but that's the responsibility for a top guy in the National Hockey League now. If you want to be the elite guy those are the responsibilities that go with it. It was good. We spent probably four hours together, and I've talked to him a couple of times on the phone as well. I think not only coaching the player but coaching the person is very important."

People look at Alex and say, 'Well, he doesn't backcheck or play in the other end of the ice, but Barry is going to change that.' Is that a goal of yours, to add more responsibility in that end, make him think he has more responsibility in that end?

"I think you look at it as what's going to help you win, and Alex playing a little more on both ends of the ice, a full 200-foot game, will enhance our chance to win. I know it's a process. I want to make him more accountable. I use the term that he's got a lot of glide in his game right now. Some of that was his doing and some of that was actually put on his plate by the previous regime from what I understand. I just want him to play the way that will give us the best chance to win.

"I don't want to take away from the tremendous offensive gift that he has; I actually want to enhance it. He's a lot more dangerous when he's skating, when he's moving, when he's got a little bit of room to operate. I have found him standing still a lot on the film that I'm watching, very easy to cover, and he still got 51 goals. If you're going to be a championship-caliber team or a threat to be a championship-caliber team you have to play a 200-foot game and you have to produce on both ends of the ice. Production is being able to defend and offensively being able to score. There aren't too many perfect players in the National Hockey League; they all have faults. But Alex's greatest gift is he can score and scoring is really hard. It's probably the hardest thing to do in the National Hockey League and he might be the best in the League at doing that. I don't want to take away from his gifts. I want to enhance his gifts. I want to enhance his ability to help the team even more. His 5-on-5 production has to be higher. He doesn't get any free passes. He's playing against the best."

What about your No. 2 center? You have Nicklas Backstrom and then you have a host of options behind him. How do you see this playing out?

"I'm looking at it in a number of different ways. You've got Marcus Johansson, who has played wing but he's a centerman with great speed in the middle. The more I watch Backstrom the more I realize how good he really is and he gets very little credit. I was in the Western Conference for 17 years and I would see him once or twice a year. You knew he was good but you don't know how good he is until you dissect him a little. He's really good. But in the two-hole I'm really looking at a number of guys. I'm going to put guys in the middle during camp. I'm going to put Marcus Johansson and [Evgeny] Kuznetsov in the middle. Eric Fehr played in the middle last season but I think he's probably going to end up on the wing. Organizationally they added Andre Burakovsky [No. 23 pick in 2013 NHL Draft] and I'd like to see him in the middle. We did that during development camp and he was outstanding in the middle. We've really got a few options there and I think that's good. What you're seeing in the National Hockey League now is the more people who can play center the better. Players can always get to the wall.

"I'm going to let them play it out. We're going to try to get the best three up the middle in terms of the people who are really good at distributing the puck and making things happen from the middle of the ice. After those three I think the fourth line will probably have a little more definition, probably more bite to it. I'm going to let them play through the camp, but my vision is that Johansson will play in the middle and Kuznetsov or Burakovsky will play in the middle and one will have to move to the wall. In today's game, the more options you have the better off you are.

"Obviously the Backstrom-Ovechkin line gets all the hard matchups, but last year based on performance the Jason Chimera-Joel Ward line probably outperformed any combination that they had in a second line. Through Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer -- one of them might have to play on the top line -- Kuznetsov, Johansson, Burakovsky, Fehr, I think we can probably establish a pretty good second line. If we can do that the depth of the third line will be very good too.

"The center-ice position is where I'm going to focus a lot of attention. I think we're going to be a lot deeper through the middle of the ice then I even expected."

When he's healthy, and right now he's recovering from an ankle injury, where do you see Tom Wilson fitting into your plan this season?

"I really like this player. When I first talked to Mac [general manager Brian MacLellan], when we both got hired, one of the things I said is based on watching him play and seeing where he is, he needs to move up the lineup. He's got a lot of the qualities of a Milan Lucic-type player, a power forward, physical, but he has the ability to get around the ice and the ability with the hands to do something. I can see him moving up the ladder. Last year he was primarily fourth line and I know he should at least be in the top-nine for us. We need that element. Down the road I think he's going to be a top-six forward. Honestly I might have been the most excited about this player. He should be ready for the start of training camp, meaning that he'll be skating and practicing. But will he be playing? I can't really answer that. I'm hoping he's ready to go really early in training camp so he can catch up to everybody. I am really excited about him. I think he's a guy that's going to move up really quickly."

What about Kuznetsov? Here's someone who has been talked about in Washington for a long time. Fans have been waiting to see him, see what he's all about. They saw glimpses of it last season in 17 games. What do you make of him and the type of player he can be?

"The skill level, you see it on the power play and you see it in some of the short plays he's able to make, that usually the very high-end players are able to execute. He's able to do a lot of that. He was playing on the wall last year but he was mainly playing in the middle over in Europe, so he became a little bit of a hard read because he didn't play in the middle. I'm going to play him in the middle right through, and if you get some people who are pretty hard-driving guys on his wing he could be a great fit. That's why I'm hoping a guy like Wilson will be ready to do a lot of the heavy lifting and Kuznetsov can use his high skillset to make things happen. Hopefully I'll get to see that. But the other guy I didn't know much about that I got excited about was Burakovsky. He's a talent and he has a very mature game."


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