After a few years of making more noise than expected in the post-season, the New York Islanders managed to shock the hockey world in May yet again, but for all the wrong reasons.
The club announced Monday that it’s parted ways with head coach Barry Trotz, who took over the bench in 2018-19 and led the Islanders back to the post-season for three straight seasons before missing the boat this year — reaching the conference finals for the past two years before this recent stumble.
With more than two decades and 1,812 big-league games under his belt as a head coach, including 14 playoff runs and a Stanley Cup — with the 2018 Washington Capitals — in that span, the line for Trotz’s services is likely to be a long one.
Here’s a look at who he might be fielding calls from before he makes his decision on his 2022-23 destination:
1. DETROIT RED WINGS
Let’s start with the two obvious options — the other clubs in the league who currently have head coaching vacancies.
First, the Red Wings, who enter 2022-23 with plenty of promising pieces — most notably, a talented youth movement led by potential Calder candidates Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond. They also enter next season without a coach, GM Steve Yzerman having relieved Jeff Blashill of his bench boss duties at the end of the 2021-22 regular season.
If you’re wondering whether Yzerman will take a look at Trotz to lead his club, you need only refer to the reasoning the Hall of Famer gave when he decided to cut ties with Blashill:
“We have struggled defensively,” Yzerman said during a press conference explaining the decision. “We’ve been unable, with the group that we’ve had, specifically in that area, to get better. To get our team to play, both individually and collectively, as a sounder defensive hockey team. It’s been three years and we’ve been trying — it hasn’t been from a lack of discussion, a lack of effort on our coaching staff’s behalf. We’re trying — we just haven’t been able to do it.
“That’s an area that’s going to have to improve. In order to do that, I’m going to bring in a new coach.”
Cue Barry Trotz’s music.
2. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
Then there’s Philadelphia. The Flyers are a tougher sell, given where they’re at as an organization at the moment, the team suffering some key losses off the roster in recent years, and staring down a more significant retooling to get back to where they need to be.
Trotz’s best work came when he had elite pieces to work with in D.C. But in the Islanders, the veteran bench boss took a team that had missed the playoffs for two seasons straight and turned them into one of the East’s best for three years. They took down a Pens team coming off a three-year stretch that saw them go back-to-back and have a three-peat bit ended only by the defending champs (Trotz's Capitals). Then the Isles fought all the way to the conference final two years in a row, losing out both times only to the eventual champion Bolts.
Trotz's first Isles team wasn’t exactly a juggernaut in terms of personnel — the club’s top five scorers were a sophomore Mathew Barzal, along with Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson, Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle. Quality players, no doubt, but not quite Ovechkins or Backstroms.
The Flyers are flawed, but they have pieces to work with. And while it's tough to see Trotz choosing Philly given the other options that might be available to him, it seems likely the Flyers at least take a swing.
3. WINNIPEG JETS
Then we have a team whose coaching situation seems a bit more hazy.
In what wound up a tumultuous, disappointing campaign in Winnipeg, the Jets saw longtime head coach Paul Maurice step down from his role partway through the year, believing his club needed a new voice — then the team handed the reins to Dave Lowry, who didn’t change all that much from the method that already had the club stumbling.
The end result was the Jets on the outside of the playoff picture for the first time in five years, and the club’s veterans questioning their future with the organization. Needless to say, they need a new leader at the helm.
In Trotz, the Jets could find some stability, on and off the ice — a proven winner who could convince the team’s marquee names to stick around, and who could meaningfully improve their play on the ice. There’s no denying Winnipeg has talent dotted throughout its roster — the issue has long been how it’s used, and whether that talent has been motivated to perform to its fullest. Trotz has proven adept at solving such issues.
Sportsnet colleague Ken Wiebe dove deeper into the subject, laying out why the Jets should make every effort to bring the Dauphin, Manitoba native home.
4. VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
File the Golden Knights in that hazy-situation category, too.
After a sterling start to their NHL tenure, Vegas suffered the first disappointing season in the franchise’s young history, missing the playoffs for the first time. Injuries played a key role in why the team stumbled so mightily, surely, but there’s no doubt it will still be a tough pill to swallow for Vegas' decision-makers given the absurd plethora of talent housed on the roster — and the extreme lengths the club has gone to in order to get them there.
Then there’s the issue of the Robin Lehner debacle. With the Golden Knights floundering late in the season, injuries still playing a key role, DeBoer had this to say about his starting netminder after a 3-2 loss to the Devils in late April: “This time of year, you’re looking for your guy to be better than the guy at the other end. That wasn’t the case.” The next game, DeBoer went back to Lehner for the start, and then pulled him after the veteran allowed one goal on 13 shots through the first period. After the game, he criticized Lehner again: “We pay him to start games like this. It's the most important time of the year. He's healthy. He's fresh. He's got a lot of energy and we need him at this point of the year.”
Two days later, ESPN’s Emily Kaplan reported that Lehner was to undergo season-ending surgery. DeBoer publicly denied it, saying he expected his netminder dressed for the following game — doing so for cap-related reasons. Lehner did eventually undergo successful shoulder surgery.
Said Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman at the time, of where the Golden Knights goalie’s mindset was at during that chaotic stretch: "Lehner, who was playing hurt, was upset at some of the criticism he was receiving, and also being pulled the other night, and I believe he informed the Golden Knights he was going to have surgery, and shut it down.”
For a team that saw more off-ice drama than on-ice results this season, it’s tough to see the Golden Knights brass wanting to run it back with both Lehner and DeBoer in the fold. And with Lehner signed for three more years as the club’s starter, the decision might already be made. If Vegas does opt to move on from their current coach, it would be tough to find a better option than Trotz, particularly given what he did with Washington’s star-studded roster.
5. FLORIDA PANTHERS
What about the Florida Panthers? A post-season favourite who could wind up looking in a new direction if they come up short in their first-round bout, and against Trotz’s former side to boot.
The most interesting aspect of the Panthers’ situation is the immense potential of their current group. The Cats finished 2021-22 as one of the most offensively dominant clubs in recent memory, and seem to have all they need across the board to go all the way. And yet, against a lesser Capitals side, which had injury questions coming into the series, the Panthers have been made to look far more human than they would've liked.
They have an interim head coach leading the charge at the moment in Andrew Brunette, who was unexpectedly thrust into the lead role when the organization parted ways with Joel Quenneville. But there have been questions about whether Brunette’s the right voice for this crucial stretch of Panthers history, with the team holding perhaps the greatest chance at a title that they’ve ever had.
The squad looked just as dominant before he came aboard, and faced with some real adversity here in the post-season, some have questioned Brunette’s ability to adapt and react on the fly in order to get his club over the hurdle. If it goes south, it seems a fair bet the organization could look to pivot to a more seasoned leader.
And given what Trotz was able to do with that other offensively gifted squad who needed to learn how to play on the other side of the puck, he'd be as good a choice as any.