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Risk Factors: Washington Capitals edition

Barry Trotz

Barry Trotz


From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you “Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.

Washington Capitals

1. How effective, really, is Barry Trotz as a coach?

We only ask because, during all his time in Nashville, he only led the Predators to a pair of first-round playoff victories. Eight times he missed the postseason completely, including his last two seasons there.

Yeah, yeah, the Preds weren’t exactly stacked with all-stars. But they weren’t completely bereft of them either. In 15 seasons behind the bench, getting past the second round, at least once, was a reasonable ask.

“Barry’s teams have always played with structure, discipline and intensity, and I look forward to him leading us to success for many years to come,” said Caps GM Brian MacLellan when Trotz was hired.

Structure. Discipline. Intensity. Not quite the calling cards of the Washington Capitals in the Alex Ovechkin era. So when you look at it that way, the hiring made a lot of sense.

But there’s a risk when any coach comes in and says things like, “At first there will be some pain. ... It’ll be uncomfortable for some guys.”

The risk is players get turned off and tune out. They hear things like, “Alex has got a bit too much glide in his game,” and take it personally, rather than constructively.

Look, all we’re saying is there’s a reason the Predators hired a coach with a “fun way to play” as a replacement for Trotz.

2. 2C

If you’re not familiar with the importance teams place on the second-line center position, you really haven’t been paying attention.

This offseason alone, Anaheim added Ryan Kesler, Dallas got Jason Spezza, St. Louis signed Paul Stastny, and Chicago picked up Brad Richards in hopes of addressing that all-important spot.

Meanwhile, the Caps appear to be going with a 19-year-old rookie, Ande Burakovsky, who’s never played a game of professional hockey.

It wasn’t for a lack of looking. Rather, it was a lack of qualified candidates. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson, and Brooks Laich were the three others who auditioned this preseason. I.e., another rookie, an undersized forward who’s probably better suited to the wing, and a 31-year-old who hasn’t been able to stay healthy.

Will the Caps live to regret not ponying up for Mikhail Grabovski, instead of giving an aging Brooks Orpik $27.5 million over five years?

“I guess my overall philosophy is we’re going to have to develop one of our young guys to play second-line center,” MacLellan said in June.

By throwing one of them in the deep end, and hoping he can swim.

3. Is Ovechkin willing to grow?

We all know he can score. And he’s paid handsomely for it. Without Ovechkin, the Caps would probably still be an afterthought in D.C.

But it’s fair to ask, at 29 years old, is he willing to grow as a player? Namely, is he willing to work at becoming a better two-way player?

It’s no coincidence that there’s a distinct relationship between teams with Selke Trophy recipients and teams that win Stanley Cups. Jonathan Toews, Patrice Bergeron and Pavel Datsyuk have each won the award in recent years, and they’ve each won the Cup. Anze Kopitar is another example of an excellent two-way forward. He’s won two Cups in the last three years.

Now, granted, all four of those players are centers, and Ovechkin is a winger. In many ways, he’s limited in what he can do in his own end by his position. Then again, so is Marian Hossa, and he’s a great two-way forward who thrives on creating back pressure and stealing pucks.

Nobody’s asking Ovechkin to go out and win the Selke. But he’s out on the ice for a third of the game, and captains need to lead by example.

“He got 51 goals last year, and I’d love for him to get 52,” Trotz said. “But not at the expense of the other side of the puck.”

It’s going to be a fascinating season in Washington.