ARLINGTON, Va. — Barry Trotz started dancing as soon as he walked into the locker room mid-celebration.
Within seconds, players doused him with beer and champagne, jumped around him and hugged their beloved coach. Trotz couldn’t see but still had plenty of clarity in that moment.
"I could feel the love," he said.
Veteran Brooks Orpik believes that moment showed the admiration and respect Washington Capitals players have for Trotz, a pending free agent at the peak of his career after winning the Stanley Cup. Trotz’s contract status is the biggest question facing Washington as the off-season begins.
Trotz wants to be back, and general manager Brian MacLellan wants to sign the 55-year-old to an extension. Now it’s a matter of them getting a deal done.
Trotz and MacLellan met Wednesday to begin discussing a new contract. It’s uncommon for an established coach of a contending team to go through a lame-duck season and even rarer for a Cup-winner to not be back the next season.
"We’ve got lots of good things going," Trotz said. "We’ll work through what we need to do. If that’s what they want, then something will get done. If not, we’ll deal with that."
MacLellan and the Capitals opted not to extend Trotz last summer following a second consecutive Presidents’ Trophy-winning season that ended with a second-round exit at the hands of the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins. After winning the Cup at Vegas, MacLellan said Trotz would be back if he wants to be.
At the championship rally Tuesday, Trotz dropped hints of wanting to return by saying, "We’ll do it again" and noting afterward, "We’ll get something done." He reiterated Wednesday he likes the area for his family and enjoys coaching this team.
MacLellan said he’ll meet with ownership over the next week and that he doesn’t believe either side feels pressure to get a deal done given Trotz’s contract expires June 30. Asked how confident he feels about being able to re-sign Trotz, MacLellan said: "I don’t know. We’ll find out."
It’s up to owner Ted Leonsis, team President Dick Patrick and MacLellan to come to Trotz with an offer that makes sense for him to return. The New York Islanders currently have an opening, and other teams around the NHL might even fire their coaches to hire Trotz, whose relaxed attitude during the playoffs contributed to the Capitals’ run.
"Barry was the right coach for this group," defenceman Matt Niskanen said. "The things that he preaches turns out to be really important. It works for our group."
Based on the salaries of other Cup-winning coaches like Toronto’s Mike Babcock, Chicago’s Joel Quenneville and Montreal’s Claude Julien, it’s reasonable to think Trotz could make $4 million-plus annually with the Capitals or another team.
Over the past 40 years, only four Stanley Cup-winning coaches didn’t return to that team the next season. Scotty Bowman left Montreal to become Buffalo’s GM in 1979, retired after winning with Detroit in 2002 and replaced Bob Johnson in Pittsburgh in 1991 when Johnson became ill. The other instance was when Mike Keenan left the Rangers after winning in 1994 because of a disagreement with GM Neil Smith and New York’s management.
That’s the most similar situation to Trotz, a proud veteran of 19 NHL seasons who went through a lame-duck season with prospective coach-in-waiting Todd Reirden on his staff. If Trotz returns, Reirden would likely be given the chance to catch on elsewhere.
Players widely want to see Trotz back in charge next season, in part because he pushed the right buttons on the way to the franchise’s first title and lived the pain and success with them on the way to the Cup.
"He’s been through adversity like the rest of us," goaltender Braden Holtby said. "He’s a huge part –him and the rest of the coaching staff. They gave us a good game plan and we executed it. I think his best quality this year probably was letting us kind of take care of ourselves. Showing us that if we’re going to have success we need to find it in our locker room ourselves and he did that."
NOTES: Orpik had to have the tip of his left pinkie finger stitched back on after a slash from Vegas’ Erik Haula late in Game 2 of the final. The 37-year-old defenceman also expects to have a hand injury from the first round checked out Friday. … Center Nicklas Backstrom revealed he had two fractures in his right index finger from a Justin Schultz slap shot in Game 5 of the second round that caused him to miss four games. … Center Evgeny Kuznetsov injured his left shoulder in Game 2 of the final on a hit from Brayden McNabb. … Winger Andre Burakovsky broke his right thumb in the first round and returned during the conference final.