This was about money, sure. But it was about principle as well.
The Washington Capitals weren’t willing to pay Barry Trotz at a level commensurate to his peers, so the veteran head coach decided to step down just 11 days after bringing the franchise its first Stanley Cup.
It’s telling that in announcing Monday’s decision the Capitals expressed disappointment but praised Trotz: “Barry is a man of high character and integrity and we are grateful for his leadership and for all that he has done for our franchise.”
It is those same qualities that drove him to walk away. In Trotz’s mind, the team left him no other choice.
While it was well known the Capitals were letting the final season of Trotz’s contract play out before deciding on his future, there was also a previously unreported clause in his deal that called for a two-year extension at a $300,000 raise should he win the Stanley Cup, according to a source.
That wasn’t nearly as appealing as the day it was originally negotiated because Trotz signed his $6-milllion, four-year contract with Washington in the summer of 2014 – a season before Mike Babcock landed a $50-million, eight-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs that significantly inflated the market for top NHL coaches.
Since then, Chicago Blackhawks veteran Joel Quenneville started pulling in roughly $6 million annually. Claude Julien got $5 million per season from the Montreal Canadiens. Alain Vigneault got a $2-million raise to a little more than $4 million from the New York Rangers before he was fired in the spring.
Heck, his replacement – David Quinn of Boston University – landed a five-year deal at $2.4 million per. And he’s a rookie head coach at the NHL level.
After all the success he’d had in Washington, Trotz didn’t think it was right that he’d be paid $1.8 million for the next two seasons. It’s hard to blame him. But the Capitals balked at a request for a five-year extension, according to general manager Brian MacLellan, and there was no middle ground to be found in between.
“His representative wants to take advantage of Barry’s experience and Stanley Cup win and is trying to negotiate a deal that compensates him as one of the better coaches in the league,” MacLellan told reporters in Washington. “A top-four or -five coach. He’s looking for that type of contract.”
It’s the first time since Mike Keenan in 1994 that a head coach walked away from his team immediately after winning the Stanley Cup with plans of continuing to work. Scotty Bowman retired after the Detroit Red Wings victory in 2002.
Trotz isn’t believed to have anything lined up immediately, but there have been rumblings that at least one team already with a head coach is intrigued by the fact he’s now on the open market. The New York Islanders are the only organization currently with a vacancy.
It could make for an interesting few days with organizations already knee deep in preparations for next season and the hockey world about to come together for the draft.
The Capitals, meanwhile, have been grooming associate coach Todd Reirden to take over from Trotz and it’s believed to be his job to lose. Reirden wasn’t permitted to speak with other NHL teams about head coaching vacancies last summer and will have an interview with MacLellan in the near future.
The coaching shuffle only underscores how unexpected this championship season was for a Caps team that got worse on paper but managed to find a higher resolve when the playoffs arrived. It all started with Trotz, who has spoken of going through a personal experience last summer that brought better perspective to his life.
While he declined to provide specific details on what that experience was, Trotz said: “When I got that clarity everything got calm.”
It allowed him to brush aside the uncertainty about his future this season and just do his job. He appeared more relaxed than ever while watching the Capitals fall behind in all four series this spring and still manage to win each.
“I haven’t lost any sleep,” he said, when asked how he dealt with being in the final year of his contract. “I just said ‘The Good lord, he’s got my back.”’
Trotz replaced Adam Oates behind the Washington bench in 2014 and took over a team that had missed the playoffs the previous year. Under his watch, the Capitals won three Metropolitan Division titles, two Presidents’ Trophies and had 31 home playoff dates.
They also delivered the career hockey man with a moment he’ll never forget earlier this month by rallying in the third period of Game 5 to eliminate the Vegas Golden Knights and win the Stanley Cup.
“Your legacy is going to go on that Cup,” Trotz said on the ice at T-Mobile Arena. “That’s probably the one thing: My kids’ kids can go to the Hockey Hall of Fame and say ‘There’s grandpa’s name on the Cup.’
“That, to me, means everything.”