Barry Trotz Latest Coach Attempting To Maximize Alex Ovechkin

It was only a matter of time at new Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz's introductory press conference Tuesday that he was asked about how he would utilize and maximize forward Alex Ovechkin's skill set.

While Trotz's tenure will be (and should be) judged on team-wide success, a symbiotic relationship undoubtedly exists between Ovechkin's individual success and the fortunes of the franchise. 

As he will with every player, Trotz will study game film of Ovechkin and sit down with his new captain to discuss his role moving forward. 

"It starts with a relationship. I know I'm going to work at that, but it can't happen until I have a relationship with him because there's no trust," Trotz said. "To me, Alex has to trust that I'm giving him the best advice for the team, for him to grow his game. I know going against him, I know what he does well, but I need to know Alex the person."

Former coach Adam Oates echoed similar sentiments upon his hiring two years ago. Oates worked feverishly to cultivate a relationship with Ovechkin, building a foundation of trust that led to a revitalization of Ovechkin's career after the superstar had become too predictable offensively. 

Under Oates, Ovechkin won two goal-scoring titles and his third Hart Trophy, but that was the extent of Oates' success. The Hall-of-Famer could not find a way to fix Washington's defensive deficiencies in a similar manner, which ultimately led to his demise.

Ovechkin's 51 goals -- his fifth 50-goal season, a feat that only 10 other players in league history have ever accomplished -- was overshadowed by his minus-35 rating, third-worst in the NHL. Ovechkin did not necessarily regress defensively, but his shortcomings were thrust into the spotlight as a result.

Several coaches have tried to marry Ovechkin's generational offensive skill with competent defense in a variety of fashions, from Bruce Boudreau's foray into accountability to Dale Hunter's rigidness that left Ovechkin on the bench in lead-protecting situations. Trotz's trademark structure will be the next attempt at doing so.

During his 15 seasons with the Nashville Predators, Trotz's teams routinely hovered near the top half of the league in goals against per game. While the same cannot be said about the offense, which finished in the bottom half of the league in goals for per game 10 times, Trotz has proven that he can field a team that can excel at both ends of the ice.

When Nashville was deeper at forward with the likes of Paul Kariya and Steve Sullivan between 2005-07, the Predators finished 11th and fifth in goals per game, respectively, and eighth in goals against per game in both seasons. 

Trotz's defensive reputation precedes him, but he has shown that he can alter his game plan to accentuate the strengths of his personnel, emphasizing responsible defense while also nurturing skilled offense.

In Washington, he understands that he has personally unprecedented offensive firepower at his disposal. That starts with Ovechkin, whose career-low 32 goals are one fewer than the Predators' single-season franchise record.

Yet just as integral to Washington repositioning itself as a viable Stanley Cup contender (or even just a playoff team) is a commitment to two-way hockey. It will take a concerted effort, but how Ovechkin responds will be essential. 

“Ovi really set this franchise going forward when he came in,” Trotz said. “I’m going to have a conversation with Ovi on his role with the group and how I would like to play. We’ll decide that together with obviously putting himself in a situation to be successful within the group.

“He does something special and he scores a lot, but you can contribute in so many other ways, too. My job as a coach is to find a way to allow Alex and the other players to reach their potential as a group and be able to play together."

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