OPEN MIC: Predators coach Barry Trotz

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Jim Kelley

If you live outside of middle Tennessee, you probably haven't heard much about Nashville coach Barry Trotz except for the occasional rumor that he was about to be fired. It goes that way for expansion coaches. With few exceptions (Minnesota's Jacques Lemaire being a notable one), expansion-team coaches come into the game with little fanfare, work extraordinarily hard with very little talent and are usually fired long before their efforts start a team down the path toward success. Not so in Nashville. Trotz has been with the from the beginning and this weekend he'll coach his 392nd NHL game with the , one more than Terry Crisp logged with the Tampa Bay . That constitutes a record for most games coached by a team's first coach since the advent of NHL expansion in 1967. That's no small accomplishment in a league where even veteran coaches with well-established clubs are often shown the door sometimes just months after they were hired. FOXSports.com caught up with Trotz by telephone this week to talk about the state of coaching in the NHL today and his successes and disappointments with the . FOXSports.com: Coaching has always been an unstable profession, especially at the pro level and especially in regards to hockey. How did you approach this job and what's been the key to your having some stability there? Barry Trotz: When I took the job, I was just excited to be a part of the organization. I worked with Paul Gardner and David Poile in Washington, and David (the general manger of the since their inception) took a chance and allowed us to come in and be a part of building an expansion team in a non-traditional market.
NAME: Barry Trotz
POSITION: Head coach of the Nashville
OTHER JOBS: Head coach of the Baltimore Skipjacks, then affiliated with the Washington in the American Hockey League; head coach of the Portland Pirates in the AHL where he had two Calder Cup Championship appearances in his first four years there and where he won the AHL championship and AHL coach of the year honors (1994-95). Coached junior hockey in Canada and was an assistant and later a head coach at the University of Manitoba where he was eventually inducted into that school's Hall of Fame. He's been a scout with the organization and with the Western Hockey League's Spokane Chiefs. He played junior hockey in Canada with Regina in the WHL.
WHY YOU NEED TO KNOW HIM: Because he's about to coach his 392nd NHL game, putting him in line to become the dean of expansion-team coaches and because he's a teacher who has taken a start-up team from a sheet of paper to what is finally becoming a force in the NHL's Central Division. The are 22-15-5 in their last 42 games, a complete turnaround from a horrific 2-10-4-4 start. The are one win away from the .500 mark after a 5-0 triumph Tuesday vs. their expansion cousins, the Columbus . It's the closest the franchise has ever been to .500 at this point in any of its five-year history.

I have to tell you I was excited by that, but when we settled in I thought maybe I had bitten off more than I can chew and then when that settled again, I felt an opportunity to establish myself in a different way and in a different market. That's how we approached it. There have been a lot of good times and some bad, but the patience that David has shown has been appreciated. This is an age that seems to be dominated by instant gratification, a fast-food age and everyone seems to want everything right now. David has taken a different approach. He's been patient with us and, hopefully, we'll be able to repay that patience. FOXSports.com: For any coach, the ultimate goal is the Stanley Cup, but for a coach who starts with nothing more than a list of possible players, how do you measure success? BT: What we tried to do right from the start, was get better and younger every year from that first expansion team on out. Usually that first team is a mish-mash of players, some older guys who maybe were overlooked and some guys who maybe had one good year and then couldn't find themselves. When you're working with a first-year team, you get the whole mixed bag. We were looking for players with an upside of either skill or speed and people with really good character who would battle together through tough times and not quit. We wanted to develop a hard-working team because we felt that's a requirement for any successful franchise. You look at Dallas or Detroit, any high skill-level team and you see talent, but also a hard-work concept. That's where we started. FOXSports.com: Essentially, it's the general manager who is charged with building a winner, but he tends to get more time than a coach, especially in the mind of the public. How close are you to David Poile and do you see the building of a team the same way? BT: I think so. One thing David did very well when talking to us about coming to Nashville was in articulating the whole plan and the process. He was very good about that. He explained how we may be pealing off an older player for a younger one and the things that would entail. He was very good at articulating those things to us. You have to be on the same page or it doesn't work. ... If you're patient and keep working and teaching and getting players better in their development and building a work ethic and a tradition, then we're going in the right direction. That's what I'm often asking young guys to do, have a long-term vision instead of a short-term vision. Sometimes it doesn't always go well, and as a coach maybe you want that instant gratification from time to time, but he (Poile) keeps the goal in sight and that helps. I've found that some things work and some don't; it's not an exact science. We've had to learn to cut losses at times and other times to stick with players and just wait it out. It's tough sometimes; like I said everybody wants it now in an instant-gratification age, but when you build it right, when you see it come together, it's very rewarding and we're starting to see that. FOXSports.com: How so? BT: (In) some of the young guys. (David) Legwand is an impact player for us now and not even in his hockey years yet. He's 22 and maybe doesn't hit his real stride until he's 25, but I've always said hockey age is 25-30. It's a process with young guys. I learned that in the minors. Some guys go through it and learn it quicker than others, but it's a process. We always say that they're all going to peak. Some get it at 23 some maybe not until they're 27. (Vancouver's Todd) Bertuzzi was like that, so is (Buffalo's) . All of a sudden they sort of get it. FOXSports.com: The franchise is built around kids like Legwand, , and the like. Kids take time to mature and seldom to they do it on the same schedule. How do you balance development against the need to put on a show and attract fans? BT: What you try to do — and this is something we had some success in Washington's minor-league system — we tried to find players, veteran players with good character and then put them in situations where they can use their best assets. (center) is like that. He has offensive talents and we put him in a situation where he can use his talents, but then we stress the defensive side of the game so he can be better at that. Legwand, the first thing he had to learn was play without the puck because he was such an offensive talent and he always had it (in junior hockey). He had to learn to play defense. We put him in offensive situations to use his talents, but we stressed the need for him to play defense. We wanted the players to learn from the coaches in practice, but from other players as well. FOXSports.com: That's not always as easy as it sounds ... BT: Sometimes there are problems, sometimes you have to give a guy a kick in the rear, sometimes you have to give him positive reinforcement. Leggy had all the ability, but before he just played and now he just doesn't play, he competes and that's been the transformation. I've seen it with players coming from the AHL to the NHL, you have to learn how to compete. You can play in the NHL as a young player, but eventually you have to learn how to compete in the NHL. You have to learn how to win. Players have to go through that. The biggest thing with young guys is finding that balance between winning and showing confidence in their development. Sometimes we don't do that as well as we would like, but that's what we try to do and they do, too. FOXSports.com: Rarely is a coach just a coach, often he's the focal point of the franchise, especially a young franchise, regards the game. Has that been difficult, having to coach and help sell a team and the sport in Nashville? BT: It has been the best experience I could imagine. When we came here we were basically the pro scouts. That was a good experience, scouting pro and amateurs and designing dressing rooms and putting a staff together with David and seeing how it all evolves, we did a bit of everything. You can go to any management school and get your MBA, but we've had the experience of going to Hockey University and building a franchise from scratch. That has helped us be more patient instead of the instant-gratification route. Coming in early helped us. I don't have any problems trying to sell the game, I love the game and I don't know anything else. If you want to talk hockey all day I can do that. I think it's a responsibility for every coach and every athlete to sell your sport. Our game gives us an opportunity to be a spokesman, to sell the game and I think that's a responsibility for everyone in this business. FOXSports.com: What have you learned in your five years there that has flat-out surprised and amazed you? BT: What's amazed me, probably more than anything, is how high a level in terms of mental focus that you have to have to be an elite team in the NHL. You've got to have the talent and all that, but what amazes me say about the is every night teams go after them, and they respond and then they get to the playoffs and play at an even higher level. That just totally amazes me and I think it's something that you have to develop over time. Certain players have that, but as a team you see they go through some failures, get through that and then go on to win Cups. You see that with Detroit and New Jersey and Colorado, at least when they were forming in Quebec. For the most part you have to have some failures and setbacks and then learn to use that. Detroit beating Vancouver (in the playoffs after Vancouver had built a 2-0 lead) last year will help Vancouver because they saw how hard it was to beat a team like Detroit and what's necessary to get to the next level. I think you often learn more from losses and how to react to them than you do with wins. Ottawa is going through that. A lot of people question Ottawa, but the things that they've had to go through, the team being sold, regular-season success, followed by disappointments. Last year was the really defining moment for them. They are learning about how to get to that next level just as Vancouver is. You can benefit from taking it on the chin. You adjust, get harder and more resilient and it makes you more consistent when you get back there. FOXSports.com: Could you comment on 392 games with the same team? BT: It didn't really set in until probably the last two weeks when people started bring it up, but now I have thought about it and it does have meaning to me. I've been fortunate to work with good people who have a plan and a vision. To have a little longevity, yeah, more than I ever thought I might, that means something. I'm still here in part because people took a chance on me and gave me an opportunity and I'm thankful for that. I'm still here because of those good people. Jim Kelley can be reached at his e-mail address: jkelley@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Sabres, Red Wings, Capitals, Predators, Blue Jackets, Scott Walker, Denis Arkhipov

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