Remember the Capitals 2013-14 season? A season that saw one of the best goalies in the NHL, Braden Holtby, have a bad season. The Caps traded for Jaroslav Halak. Alex Ovechkin was a minus-35 and Adam Oates, then the head coach, was fired at the conclusion of the season after two years behind the bench. On top of all that, the Capitals missed the playoffs for the first time in six years. It was just a bad season.
Looking back on it though, maybe it wasn’t all that bad. After the mediocre campaign, Coach Oates was, as mentioned above, fired along with longtime General Manager George McPhee. That opened the door for the current regime, General Manager Brian MacLellan and Head Coach Barry Trotz, to take the reigns in a new era of Caps hockey. In the three seasons since then, the Capitals have been dominant.
MacLellan has done a tremendous job in his first three seasons at the head of the front office (prior to his promotion to GM, he served three years as an Assistant GM and 10 seasons before that as a scout with the team). In his first offseason as general manager he hit two home runs with the free agency signings of defensemen Matt Niskanen (seven-years, $40.25 million) and Brooks Orpik (five-years, $27.5 million). Say what you want about Orpik’s contract, but it could be worse. Those two defensive signings fixed a Capitals defense which ranked in bottom ten of the NHL the season before.
Signing great players was one thing. Finding the right coach was another. Trotz was head coach of the Nashville Predators for 15 seasons. In those 15 seasons, he made the playoffs seven times and advanced past the first round twice. Unfortunately for Nashville, the best they would finish under Trotz in the playoffs would be a second round defeat, twice in 2011 and 2012. Despite that, he is easily the best coach in Predators history (even if he is only one of two men to hold that job).
Now, is Trotz possibly in Washington what he was in Nashville? The best coach in franchise history?
Since there hasn’t been much playoff success in Washington, one may have to judge everything by the regular season; and since Barry Trotz has arrived in D.C., the Capitals have been great in nearly every statistical category.
The most important category is wins. Since the 2014-15 season (Trotz’ debut season behind the bench), the Capitals are number one in the NHL in wins with 140. The New York Rangers have 137, Both the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues have 131.
Yet in hockey wins aren’t talked about as much as in other sports leagues. It’s more about standings points. Washington has run away with that stat too. Having 140 wins and a three-game lead over New York in that category is great, but the points are even more impressive. It’s a 15-point gap. Since Trotz has been head coach, the Capitals have 306 points. The next closest is again the Rangers, but they have just 291 points. The third place Anaheim Ducks sit at 284 points.
I don’t want to waste too much of your time here, so I’ll just share with you some quick stats and their rankings.
– 56 regulation losses (1st); the Pittsburgh Penguins are closest at .670 Point %, the Caps are first at .689%, The Rangers are at .655%, third place Penguins are at .635%. The Capitals are running away with the most important stat you can ever come up with: winning and getting points in the standings.
They don’t do it in just one way either. When you look at different teams, they seemingly have one way of winning; they’re either great on offense or defense. Offensive examples include the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars, while defensive examples include the Los Angeles Kings and Boston Bruins. For the past two and a half seasons, the Capitals rank among the league leaders in both offense and defense.
They’ve scored 679 goals, second only to Dallas, who have 687. Those 679 goals mean they average 3.06 per game. They are one of just three teams to average 3+ goals since the ’14-15 season began (DAL & NYR).
Defensively, it’s really not even close. Washington has given up just 511 goals, with Los Angeles closest with 531. That makes the averages for these two teams 2.30 per game for Washington, and 2.39 per game for Los Angeles.
Under Trotz, the special teams are great too. The power play operates at a success rate of 23.1%. The St. Louis Blues, who are second in power play %, are all the way back at a conversion rate of 21.8%. The other side of the specials teams – the penalty kill – also ranks in the top 5 at 83.5%.
Some more stats for you to ponder:
When leading after one period of play, the Caps are 75-5-6 which equates to a .869 win%, which ranks first. Second place Chicago has a .859%. They’re 102-3-5 or a .927% when leading after two periods, second to Pittsburgh’s .959%. And when scoring first, the Caps once again sit in first at 104-8-10, good enough for a .852 win%. The Rangers are second with a .778%.
Finally, shooting and save percentage. The season before Trotz arrived, the Capitals ranked 12th in shooting + save percentage at 100.2%. Since Barry has been in Washington, they rank second at 101.8%. The first place Rangers sit at 102%.
The Capitals have had very little postseason success, so it’s somewhat hard to judge who has been the best coach in their history. Is it Bryan Murray? He led the Caps to their first playoff berth in 1983, won the Jack Adams Award as Coach of the Year in 1983-84, and has by far, coached the most games in Washington history at 672.
Is it Ron Wilson? He coached the Capitals to their only Stanley Cup Final appearance in 1998 and is one of only two men to coach the team to a Conference Final (the other being Murray).
Current Minnesota Wild bench boss Bruce Boudreau left his mark on Washington. He coached the Caps to their first Presidents’ Trophy in 2009-10 (Which saw the team set a then-franchise record in wins – since broken by last year’s team – and a franchise record 121 points). He also won a Jack Adams Award in 2008. Can you throw him in as the best coach in Washington history?
Or is it Barry Trotz? The Caps have had regular season dominance for nearly his entire stint as the Capitals’ head coach. He’s already won a Jack Adams Award in three seasons behind the bench and has won a Presidents’ Trophy (Which was won with a franchise record 56 wins).
With the recent regular season domination, I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility to put Barry Trotz in the mix. In the previous 41 seasons in D.C. the Capitals have made it to the Conference Finals just twice. If Trotz coached this current Capitals team to a Conference Finals appearance (which would still be a disappointment if they fail to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals), combined with the domination his teams have had the past two-plus regular seasons, you can make the argument that he is the best coach in franchise history.
By CJ Witt