A minute after Barry Trotz stepped down as head coach of the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals, speculation picked up as to where he would coach next. The New York Islanders seem a natural fit, but what about the prospective Seattle franchise, which is still a couple years away from playing?
We may have to wait a bit to find out where Trotz ends up next.
“I had a bunch of guys texting me and asking me ‘do you think Barry Trotz is already in negotiations with another team’, like that’s why this happened. I don’t think so,” Elliotte Friedman said on Prime Time Sports. “I don’t get the sense that’s the case because I think he wanted to make sure — he didn’t want Washington to hear that and the Capitals would say ‘OK we’re going to lock you in. We’re going to say you owe us two years and you can’t go anywhere for two years.’ So I don’t think he’s talked to anyone.”
Only Scott Bowman, Joel Quenneville, Ken Hitchcock and Al Arbour have more career regulation wins than Trotz’s 762 so he’d be a natural fit for almost any team in the league. But remember, this was the first time since 1967-68 expansion in which a coach wasn’t fired for nearly an entire season — Alain Vigneault’s dismissal on April 7 was the first firing of 2017-18. That’s because a lot of teams had coaches in their first years, or guys who were on the hot seat coached their way off of it.
Could the availability of someone with Trotz’s track record persuade teams to think twice about their positions and question whether bringing him in would act as an upgrade?
Aside from the Islanders, there are no other instant and obvious fits. Carolina, the NY Rangers, Dallas and Calgary have already made their new hires so appear unlikely to shift gears again.
Trotz is the first coach since Mike Keenan to win the Stanley Cup and then walk away from his team for a new opportunity elsewhere. He was reportedly making $1.5 million with Washington, with others such as Joel Quenneville and Mike Babcock making upwards of $5- or $6-million, so a new team has to be willing to pay up.
With one of the top three coaches in the league now available, we speculate on four potential landing spots.
Since this is the only team (other than Washington) with a vacancy in the head coach position, the New York Islanders present the most obvious potential landing spot. But there is more reason to see this as a new opportunity for Trotz beyond convenience.
With Lou Lamoriello in as GM, he’s already let go of the coaching staff that was in place for only one season and is still working on getting John Tavares under contract for the long-term. Recent reports indicate the chances the franchise centre sticks around are getting “better and better” but until pen is put to paper, the uncertainty exists.
The Islanders were a fun offensive team in 2017-18, but allowed the most goals against in the league and need a new No. 1 goalie and some upgrades on defence. There is a lot more work for this team to do than just re-sign Tavares, so the thought was they had to do something to give him a reason to want to stay.
Bringing in Barry Trotz, the NHL’s fifth all-time winningest coach, as the new boss on the bench would check that box.
A couple years after swinging hard for and whiffing on Mike Babcock to become the team’s big-name head coach, Buffalo could take another cut at a similar pick up in Trotz. It’s far from a slam dunk chance though.
Phil Housley’s first try as a coach behind an NHL bench was given to him by Trotz, who at the time was still the head man in Nashville. Trotz brought in Housley to work with the defence and help with the growth of young players, since the Hall of Fame defenceman had spent nine years coaching a high school team, two years as an assistant for Team USA’s U-20 team, and one as its head coach. Housley became a respected assistant in the league and stayed with the Predators under Peter Laviolette after Trotz was dismissed, and left only when he got hired for the Sabres’ job last summer.
So the relationship between Housley and Trotz could muddy the situation here, or possibly help it along. On the verge of selecting Rasmus Dahlin first overall, the Sabres have to have a laser focus on stability here in the coming years. They need a core to move into the future with, and have to decide now if Ryan O’Reilly and Rasmus Ristolainen are a part of that. But they have to make sure their head coach is the guy who will be here for the next four or five years at least. Since letting go of long-time head coach Lindy Ruff in 2013, the Sabres have had four coaches in five years, which isn’t a good environment for young players to come up in.
Edmonton had a similar issue before they committed to a big-name coach of their own in Todd McLellan. Trotz presents Buffalo with a similar solution, if he’s willing to knock off his friend — or if his friend is willing to take a step back into an assistant’s role.
Bruce Boudreau is still in place, but there’s been a lot of speculation whether or not he could still get dismissed this summer. When he first arrived in Minnesota prior to the 2016-17 season, Boudreau signed what was believed to be a four-year deal, so the Wild would be on the hook for the final two unless he finds another job. And you have to think if Trotz ended up in Minnesota, the Islanders would instantly become a potential landing spot for Boudreau.
If you’re looking for a connection here, you can find one in the GM chair. Paul Fenton was hired by Minnesota on May 21 with the expectation to put together a team to win right now. The 58-year-old Fenton spent 20 years with the Nashville Predators organization and was the assistant GM for 12 of those years, so he’s very familiar with Trotz who was Nashville’s head coach from 1998-2014.
This may actually be the most far-fetched option here, as Seattle is still probably at least two seasons away from participating in NHL action — and haven’t been approved yet. But it is intriguing given the success by the Vegas Golden Knights and their head coach Gerard Gallant.
And Trotz has been part of an expansion team before, guiding Nashville as its head coach for the first 15 seasons of existence. Hours before Trotz left the Capitals, the Seattle group announced it had hired Dave Tippett as an advisor, which left the door open for him to be the first head coach, but doesn’t guarantee it.
Because of that hiring, this may not be the best fit anymore for Trotz. But, officially, the head coach job is still vacant there, and it could still be attractive.
“I think there’d be an unbelievable appeal to be a part of something like what Vegas just went through the last eight or nine months,” Nick Kypreos said on Tim and Sid May 29. “Again if you’re this expansion team in Seattle and you want to make some noise rather quickly and start with established people, tremendous credibility, how do you not put Barry Trotz at the top of your list?”