Adam Oates is credited for turning Alex Ovechkin back into a 50-goal scorer.
Barry Trotz will be asked to keep Ovechkin at that level while turning his minus-35 rating into a plus-35 rating.
Interestingly enough, Oates and Trotz shared their own thoughts about the Capitals’ 28-year-old captain the other day.
“The biggest challenge is you’re fighting a lot of years of habit,” Oates told The Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.
“But I can honestly say to you it was a lot of fun to coach the guy. We have a great relationship; he was very receptive to everything we talked about. We never fought about what I said.
“And it’s funny, one of the things was he wanted to be double-shifted and I said, ‘Well, you’ve got to play harder, because Nick Backstrom’s tired, and if he’s tired, I can’t double-shift him, so you’ve got to play better.’ And he would always agree with that.
“We never fought with stuff. He’s got some skills that I’ve never seen before, and I think he’s a great guy. He’s just got to learn some habits, obviously, and you’re fighting some uphill battles. That’s about it.”
For Ovechkin, Trotz will be his fifth head coach since joining the Capitals in 2005 and his fourth coach in three calendar years.
But there are two things Trotz has that none of his predecessors had -- 16 years of experience as an NHL head coach, and a hefty contract believed to be five years in length.
The only thing Ovechkin has in common with all of his coaches is that despite their efforts, none has ever been to a conference final.
“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 and we’ll decide that together. I haven’t really discussed that with him.
“He’s going to be a part of the team,” Trotz continued. “He does something special, he scores a lot. But you can contribute in so many other ways, too. My job as a coach is to allow Alex and every other player to reach their potential as a group."
“One of the very fundamental things, if you have a kindergarten, they give you a report card and say, ‘Do you play well with others?’ My job is to get everybody to play well together.”
The assumption around the NHL is that Ovechkin is a coach killer, a player who has required special treatment from his coaches since arriving in the NHL as the No. 1 draft pick in 2004.
Trotz said he can’t mold Ovechkin into the player he wants until he establishes a trust between them.
“It starts with a relationship,” Trotz said. “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.
“To me, Alex has to trust I’m giving him the best of advice for the team, for him to grow his game. I don’t know Alex. I know going against him what he does well. I need to know Alex the person.
“Coaching isn’t about Xs and Os, it’s about people. He comes from a different culture than the guys from Canada or the States. You find that the Swedish culture is different than Czech culture.
“I’ve got to know what these guys are about; they’ve got to know that I’m about winning, I’m about them. When I take over a team they’re part of my family. That’s how I look at them.
“I’m not always happy with my kids. I yell at them but I still love them. They’re still part of the group. That’s how I approach it. I’m a family guy. I don’t have any problems voicing my opinion to anybody on the team, but I also can let things go pretty easy."
“I don’t hold grudges. I may not like the way you played that shift or that game I’ll let you know and let’s get to work tomorrow and get it right. It’s that simple.”
One of the questions facing Trotz is where he’ll play Ovechkin next season. Will he remain at right wing, where Oates used him in each of the last two seasons? Or will he return to left wing, where he played his first seven seasons in the NHL and again for Russia in the Olympics and World Championships.
Trotz said he and new general manager Brian MacLellan were up until midnight exchanging ideas about the Caps’ current roster and Trotz was so excited he didn’t fall asleep until after 3 a.m.
“It’s easy to say these are my three best players, put them together and they’ll be a good line,” Trotz said.
But that doesn’t always work out. Last season, Ovechkin spent most of his time with Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson and the trio was a combined minus-76.
A few years ago in Nashville, Trotz said he put Joel Ward with top-liners Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont and the line “took off.”
“He did a lot of the heavy lifting for that line, which made that line exceptional,” Trotz recalled. “I like to keep two guys [like Ovechkin and Backstrom] together and tweak the line if it needs to be more physical or if you need speed.”
And when all else fails, Trotz said he always has the power of the pine.
“As a coach you have ice time,” he said. “Players are at the pinnacle of their sport. Everybody’s wired a little bit differently, but they all want to be successful."
“Some guys don’t know how to be successful and as coaches we have to help that along with structure and relationships and identify what can help a player on the ice and off the nice to be better.”