Before signing with the Capitals in July 2011, Joel Ward established himself as an everyday NHL player with a three-year stint with the Nashville Predators. It was there that Ward first got to know head coach Barry Trotz.
Ward owes plenty to Trotz and has always been complimentary of his one-time bench boss. Still, Ward was not among the four Capitals who attended Trotz’s introductory press conference on Tuesday from Verizon Center.
It turns out that Ward had a pretty good excuse; after participating in the IIHF World Hockey Championships this month, he stayed overseas for a European vacation with his girlfriend.
On Wednesday the avid sports fan spent the day at the French Open in Paris, where he was spotted by TSN’s Mark Masters.
After some small talk about tennis- including a mention that Alex Ovechkin’s fiancée Maria Kirilenko was eliminated in the first round at Roland Garros- the conversation shifted to hockey and the Capitals’ hiring of Trotz as head coach.
“I think it’s going to bring back some memories, it will be a tough grind and training camp I know is going to be very tough for sure,” Ward said.
“He’s going to install that defensive system I assume, but keep our offense going and it’s going to be a good mix for us and we’re excited for the opportunity. It’s been a few coaches in a few years for me but I know Trotz well so hopefully we can rekindle a little flame and try to get things going again in the postseason.”
Ward is coming off the best season of his NHL career, having recorded career-highs across the board with 24 goals and 49 points in 82 games. The 33-year-old is entering the final year of his contract, but could potentially enjoy another productive season under Trotz in 2014-15.
Trotz was non-committal when asked Tuesday whether he intends to play Ovechkin on the right wing (where he played under Adam Oates the past two seasons) or on the left side (where he played for the first seven years of his NHL career), but the possibility of returning Ovechkin to the left could mean a bigger role for Ward on the right side.
With Ovechkin slotted in as Washington’s top line right winger last season, Troy Brouwer played on the second line, with Joel Ward on the third unit and rookie Tom Wilson playing limited minutes on the fourth line. The right wing position was the deepest for the Capitals last season, which also led to Eric Fehr regularly playing center for the first time in his pro career.
Trotz also made it clear on Tuesday that if top prospects are in the lineup, his preference is to play them regularly provided they can handle the responsibilities and ice time that would come their way.
“With younger players, the longer that you can have them in a situation where they’re playing high minutes and producing then that’s the right seat for them,” Trotz said. “I don’t believe in young players not playing decent minutes. If they’re not [playing quality NHL minutes], then maybe they should be playing a lot more [minutes] in the minors.”