Call it grace under firing.
Barry Trotz, the NHL’s longest-tenured coach, showed tremendous class on the weekend after taking the bullet for the Nashville Predators’ second consecutive postseason whiff. Trotz was informed by general manager David Poile last week that his contract would not be renewed; the only head man to patrol the Preds bench would not be welcomed back for a 16th crack at the Cup.
Taking the blame for a 2013-14 Predators team beset by injuries (24 games by franchise netminder Pekka Rinne just ain’t enough) and ill-equipped to score could be just cause for anger or frustration.
But on Easter Sunday, Trotz acknowledged the passing of his former career with a sweet gesture. The 51-year-old Dauphin, Man., native took out a full-page advertisement in The Tennessean to thank Poile, Predators fans, various charitable organizations and the Nashville community — it became part of his identity:
“I came to Nashville in 1997 as a young NHL coach, but found a family and a home. This community welcomed me, my family and the Predators with open arms and, over the last 16 years, together we have experienced so many great moments creating a special bond between the team, the players and the fans,” Trotz wrote. “This community is a wonderful place to live and work and my family will always be grateful for the hospitality we have received and the friendships we have formed that will last a lifetime! We’ve been blessed.”
Although Trotz did not refer to his second NHL act, there most certainly will be one. Nashville’s loss will be gain of another NHL
Just as Lindy Ruff found work in Dallas the summer after being cast as the scapegoat for a poor Buffalo Sabres club (how’d they make out without Ruff this year?), Trotz too should not be unemployed for long.
“Great coach, even better person,” Poile said upon letting his friend go, perhaps in a self-saving decision.
Searching for negative spin on Trotz, who ranks fourth in wins among active coaches, is a fruitless task. One hundred and seventy-nine NHL coaching changes have been made since Trotz took a gig with the expansion Preds in August of 1997. He was a Jack Adams Trophy finalist twice, and although he never made it to a conference final, it was widely accepted that he had milked the most out of the talent he was given. If he was defence-first, it may have been because of the personnel he was given.
Consider Nashville’s recent crop of scoring leaders. The last two seasons a defenceman (Shea Weber) won the club scoring crown. In 2011-12, it was Martin Erat, who would go on to be disgruntled and ineffective with the offence-first Capitals. Before that, Trotz got more offence out of NHL flame-out Sergei Kostitsyn (50 points) than any coach prior or since. To find a 60-point-getter on the Preds, you have to flip back five seasons… to JP Dumont.
So, yes, Trotz was great at implementing team defence. But his leaving Nashville could present us with a compelling new-look Trotz. What could he do with a Kessel, an Ovechkin or a Sedin or two? We’re not sure, but we’re excited about the possibility of finding out.
The teams speculated to be considering a coaching change this off-season — Toronto, Vancouver, Washington, Carolina, Pittsburgh (only if the Penguins exit the playoffs early) — all boast bona fide play-makers, pure shooters and front lines capable of explosiveness. They’re also markets with more history, scrutiny and expectations than Music City. It’s no secret Toronto and Washington, in particular, could use a dose of defensive responsibility.
Trotz has repeatedly taken an average team and quietly made it competitive. The Preds had a winning record in nine of Trotz’s 15 seasons and qualified for the playoffs seven times.
With a fresh start, it’ll be fun to see if Trotz can class up a struggling team and bless them the way Nashville blessed him.