NASHVILLE, Tenn. -– It didn’t matter one bit to Barry Trotz that he was speaking out against a Hockey Hall of Famer.
All the NHL’s longest-tenured coach saw when Patrick Roy had his meltdown on the bench in Colorado last week was someone who wasn’t showing enough respect for the vocation. The suggestion that Roy was yelling at opposing players before nearly pushing over a stanchion to get at Anaheim counterpart Bruce Boudreau angered him in particular, which is why Trotz told the Tennessean that Roy’s behavior shouldn’t be “tolerated at all.”
What happened next says an awful lot about Trotz’s standing within the NHL coaching community. When his Nashville Predators visited Denver a few nights later, Roy made a point of clearing the air.
“After the game, he came by and just said `I’m sorry, I should have more respect for our profession,”’ Trotz told sportsnet.ca on Thursday. “I think it took a big man for Patrick to come over and say that. (The outburst) was a little bit of a rookie mistake, but he’s a passionate man.”
You would almost certainly never see that kind of outward display of emotion from Trotz. After spending more than 16 years and 1,100 games behind the Predators bench – the second-longest active streak in North American sports behind Gregg Popovich of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs – he’s learned to remain even keel while weathering the inevitable ups and downs that come with the job.
It’s been a constant battle not unlike trying to push a massive boulder uphill in the rain. Never big spenders, the “Predators Way” has been about developing players from within and having Trotz squeeze as much out of the collective group as humanly possible while rarely having the benefit of superstars in his lineup.
Further complicating the task has been the fact that many of his best players left in the prime of their careers. Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell and Cody Franson were ushered away in trades, while Ryan Suter and Dan Hamhuis left via free agency.
Despite that, Trotz has mostly managed to keep pushing the stone forward, leading the team to the playoffs seven of the last nine seasons. However, the Preds fell well short of that goal during the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign and after a 1-3-0 start this year the pressure is already building for them to prove that it’s not the beginning of a negative trend.
Keeping his job for so long is both a testament to general manager David Poile’s patience and Trotz’s ability to evolve. The coach marvels at the changes he’s witnessed to the sport. The systems are different, as are the teaching methods he uses because of advancements in technology; the pace of play is much quicker and the way he deals with players, such as rookies Seth Jones and Filip Forsberg, has changed dramatically.
“I think some of the traditions aren’t as adhered to as much,” said Trotz. “Young guys used to come in very respectful and now they want to be out front and centre. … The confidence that they come in with is a lot more boisterous, if you will, than maybe in earlier years.
“That’s sort of society in general now.”
The goal of one day winning a Stanley Cup remains constant, distant as it may seem now. Failing that, Trotz is under no illusions about the importance of keeping the Preds competitive.
“You’ve got to win in a non-traditional market,” he said. “If you don’t win (the fans) don’t come. That’s just the way it is. You can’t be lean for too long.”
Within the Nashville organization, his biggest asset is believed to be the ability to keep his players motivated. You rarely see the Preds get outworked. On many nights, that helps bridge any gap in talent that there may be on the ice.
Trotz is a former defenceman who spent three years with the WHL’s Regina Pats before moving into coaching. The last thing he expected to happen when Poile hired him out of the AHL as a 35-year-old was that he would still be in Nashville to celebrate his 51st birthday.
But here he is, trying to get another anonymous forward group to score more goals while sticking to the team’s tight defensive structure. Just like Lindy Ruff found out in Buffalo earlier this year, Trotz knows that this won’t last forever – even if it occasionally feels that way.
“I don’t know anything else,” he said. “I’ve been here for so long. At some point, my day will come and I’ll be blessed that I’ve been in one spot that I’m honoured to call my home now.”