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Trotz's future in Washington remains unsettled on eve Stanley Cup Final

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Trotz's future in Washington remains unsettled on eve Stanley Cup Final

Caps Coach Barry Trotz doesn’t have a contract beyond the Stanley Cup Final, and any potential talks about an extension will wait until the trophy is awarded, GM Brian MacLellan said Friday.

“No,” MacLellan said, asked if a decision on Trotz’s future had been made. “We’re going to address everything after the playoffs are over.”

Trotz’s four-year contract expires at season’s end.

It’s rare for a head coach to enter a season while in the final year of his deal. But that’s how the Caps decided to handle Trotz’s situation last offseason after another strong regular season performance ended with yet another second round playoff exit at the hands of the Penguins.

It was a suboptimal situation for Trotz, a 55-year-old who ranks fifth all-time in regular season victories but, until this year, had never led any team beyond the conference semifinals.

Despite his lame duck status, all Trotz did was produce his best coaching performance to date. 

Consider:

  • While visiting his son in Russia last summer, Trotz visited Alex Ovechkin in Moscow to discuss the changes he’d like to see the Caps’ captain make to his training and his game.
  • When the Caps reconvened for training camp in September, it was clear there were still some hurt feelings in the locker room. So Trotz and his assistants backed off, allowing some necessary healing to occur.
  • When the team suffered back-to-back blowout losses in Nashville and Colorado back in November, Trotz initiated a tell-it-like-it-is team meeting that many players have pointed to as the turning point of the regular season, which ended with the team’s third straight Metropolitan title.
  • Trotz also got his highly-skilled lineup to buy into a more structured, detailed style of play late in the campaign, a transformation that prompted MacLellan to call this playoff run the most defensively responsible of Trotz’s tenure.
  • In each of the two previous conference semifinals, Washington was defeated by Pittsburgh and, as a result, the Penguins had become a physical and a mental hurdle for the Caps. Earlier this month, Trotz helped direct Ovechkin and Co. past the two-time Cup champions.

Although MacLellan wouldn’t say much about Trotz’s contract, he did say that he’s noticed a big change in Trotz’s day-to-day approach to his job, a change possibly prompted by the coach’s free agent status.

“I think his demeanor has changed a little bit,” MacLellan said. “He seems a little lighter, a little looser, a little less pressure. Maybe a little more freedom about how he goes about things. He’s more relaxed, I guess would be the way to describe him.”

MacLellan also acknowledged the job Trotz’s has done this season, beginning with his delicate handling of the dressing room to start the year.

“I think he’s done a good job managing it,” MacLellan said. “To come in this year with so many questions—from my point of view, the lineup questions weren’t that big of a deal—but just the emotional state of our coming into to start the year [and] how to handle that. I think he’s done an outstanding job.”

Indeed, Trotz’s situation remains unclear on the eve of the Final. But we do know this much: He’s having one of the best contract years in NHL coaching history.

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3 players who impressed in the Capitals’ preseason loss to Carolina

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3 players who impressed in the Capitals’ preseason loss to Carolina

It was another rough start for the Capitals who not only have lost every preseason game they have played, but have still yet to hold a lead. Washington was only able to put one goal past the Carolina Hurricanes as a 3-1 first period deficit gave way to a 5-1 loss.

Despite the ugly result, however, there were some bright spots. Here are the players who impressed.

Liam O’Brien

In an era where everyone is trying to get faster, it really can make the physical players stand out. O’Brien certainly stood out on Friday and looked like the Caps’ best player. He threw his body around against the Hurricanes, but he wasn’t reckless either. O’Brien’s physicality opened up offense for his line. He finished the game with four hits, but also had six total shot attempts, three of which were on net.

At 24, it is critical for O’Brien to show he still has something to offer at the NHL level as the team adds more and more young prospects. He is unlikely to make the roster, but he is certainly making a case for a call-up this season.

Aaron Ness

Ness had the play of the night for the Capitals with his assist in the first period. He took a pass at the blue line and found some room to work in front of him. He skated up, drew the defense in with a head fake and fed Nicklas Backstrom with the no-look pass. Backstrom netted the easy goal against the fooled Petr Mrazek.

Ness made the Caps out of camp last season and played eight games with the NHL squad. If the Caps are in need of a defenseman for a long-term call-up, some of the prospects are more likely to get the nod over Ness, but he remains a viable call-up for short-term spot duty.

Ilya Samsonov

In the first game of the Prospects Showcase tournament earlier this month, Samsonov had a shaky outing allowing five goals. He followed that game with a 21-save shutout in his second start of the tournament. In his first preseason contest on Tuesday against the Boston Bruins, Samsonov allowed two goals on 11 shots and never really looked comfortable. On Friday, however, Samsonov came on for the third period and turned aside six of the seven shots he faced. The lone goal he allowed came on the power play as Valentin Zykov knocked the puck out of a scrum in front of the net to Jaccob Slavin on the back door.

The quick improvement from game to game from Samsonov has been impressive and he looked much more comfortable in net in his second preseason appearance.

Madison Bowey’s pants

Way to block that shot.

 

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As Capitals prepare for fourth preseason game, Devante Smith-Pelly still remains absent from game action

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As Capitals prepare for fourth preseason game, Devante Smith-Pelly still remains absent from game action

When the Capitals take to the ice in Carolina on Friday, they will again be without playoff hero Devante Smith-Pelly who has yet to play in the preseason.

Friday’s game will be Washington’s fourth of the preseason contest.

By now, every skater on the roster has played in at least one game except for Smith-Pelly, Lars Eller and John Carlson. Eller and Carlson both dealt with minor lower-body injuries that held them out of the first few days of training camp, but there has been no such issue for Smith-Pelly who has participated in every practice.

“He's still trying to get to the level where he was at last year and until he does, it doesn't do us any good as a team or for him to be playing in games,” head coach Todd Reirden said when asked about Smith-Pelly remaining out of game action. “He's working really hard to get back to that spot and he's close, but until he's at that spot, he won't be in the lineup because I don't feel that's setting a player up for success at all. We're hoping that that's in the next little bit here.”

When asked what the specific issue was with Smith-Pelly, Reirden declined to elaborate saying only, “He's just not at the level that he was at last year. That to me is really all there is to say about it. Once he gets there, he'll be in and he'll be helping us.”

For his part, Smith-Pelly told reporters he was not dealing with any injuries and that not playing was simply a coach’s decision.

“It was a short summer,” he said. “I'm not going to make any excuse or anything, but it was a short summer, a little different. Everyone's trying to get ready for the start of the year and everyone's path is a little bit different.”

Smith-Pelly scored seven goals in 75 games for the Caps in the regular season but was phenomenal in the playoffs with seven more goals in just 24 games leading to a new one-year contract with Washington.

With a roster competition for the fourth line, Smith-Pelly’s absence is not ideal, but he is in a much different position this year than last when he entered camp on a two-way contract. Now his contract is one-way and, based on Reirden’s comments, his playoff performance speaks for itself.

“[Smith-Pelly] had just a phenomenal postseason for us and he's a really important player for us. If you don't get that sort of impact from your bottom six guys then you're not going to win the Stanley Cup and he was a huge part for us. Like I said, we need him in there and I hope to have him in there soon.”

“I want to play every game, but that's coach's decision to get everyone ready for when it matters,” Smith-Pelly said. “Just like everyone else, I'm working to be ready for October 3.”

Eller will make his preseason debut in Carolina, but Carlson remains out of the lineup as well. Reirden said Carlson’s absence was a precaution and the hope is that he will be ready to play in Tuesday’s game against the St. Louis Blue.s

“[Carlson’s] done some more contact in scrimmages and in practice,” Reirden said. “He's really close, but again, it doesn't set the player up for any kind of success if we put him out there and take the chance of losing valuable players when they're not ready to go and up to speed.”

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