When the puck drops on the 2014-15 NHL season next fall, Nashville Predators coach Peter Laviolette will become just the second man to coach the Predators in the 16 year existence of the franchise. Before him, there was only new Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz.
Affable and honest in his interactions with the media, Trotz's reputation as an NHL coach is inseparable from the reputation of the Predators franchise as a whole: overachieving, defensive, conservative, gritty. Under Trotz, the Predators became an assembly line that produced stellar NHL defenseman like Ryan Suter, Dan Hamhuis, Shea Weber, Kimmo Timonen, Marek Zidlicky, and Cody Franson at a dizzying rate.
The Predators' track record developing elite forwards, however, just doesn't exist.
Generally speaking the Predators have played tough, 200-foot checking hockey for most of their existence. Under Trotz, the Predators were never really a trap team, they were just a budget-conscious club that played a style to emphasize their strengths, which were always in net and along the blue-line. Over time, and despite occasionally steering a more potent lineup to a high-scoring season, Trotz developed a reputation for being a "defensive coach."
It's a reputation that Trotz laughs off, and disputes somewhat. From an interview the new Capitals bench boss granted to Yahoo! Sports' Greg Wyshynski:
To me that’s a part of the game. An important part of the game.
You get labels sometimes. When I had Paul Kariya, I think we were No. 5 in the League in total offense. Two years ago, without any big game stars up front, only Chicago and Vancouver scored more goals than the Nashville Predators. But that’s never talked about.
You take on the identity of your stars. My stars in Nashville were Shea Weber, Pekka Rinne and Ryan Suter, those people. They’re known for the defensive side of the game.
If the tables were turned, and for 17 years my stars were Ovechkin and Backstrom, I’d be known as a pure offensive coach.
It wasn't long ago that the Bruce Boudreau coached Capitals were an offensive juggernaut, the NHL's version of :07 seconds or less. Under subsequent head coaches Adam Oates and Dale Hunter, the team has gotten away from that somewhat, and clearly attempted to impose a shutdown DNA on a roster that has arguably rejected it.
Enter Trotz, who suggests that he'll tailor his gameplan to the strengths of his new club. It'll be interesting to see how he does that, especially since the Capitals are constructed in a polar opposite way to how Trotz's Predators teams have been built historically - deep and skilled up front, thin and lacking in quality on the back-end.
Observing how an intelligent, defense-oriented hockey coach handles his new team, and how he decides to harness the club's offensive skill, will be a fascinating subplot next season.