When the Capitals hired Head Coach Barry Trotz in April 2014, they did so with the hope an experienced NHL voice could be the missing piece that put together a Stanley Cup puzzle. Four years later, Trotz and the Capitals have yet to win a Cup, something that loomed large over the longtime bench boss’ future in the District after three straight second round exits. But this year, an arguably weaker Capitals team than the ones who took the ice the previous two seasons has reached the Eastern Conference Final for the first time in 20 years, and Trotz is a big reason why
After losing multiple key pieces last summer on the blueline and in the forward corps, the Capitals were a team that were predicted by many to suffer a steep decline in performance and some even predicted them to miss the playoffs. And after starting the 2017-18 season 10-9-1, the Caps reached a point at which they needed the push from their veteran players and most importantly, their coach more than ever. And Trotz has not let his players down.
The Capitals ultimately finished the season in first-place in the Metropolitan Division for the third consecutive season with a record of 49-26-7, for 105 points. And while their regular season performance was impressive considering the tempered expectations prior to the start of the season, the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs have proven that Trotz is indeed the coach that can lead this team to a Stanley Cup. It began at the tail-end of the regular season, when incumbent starting goalie Braden Holtby was mired in an uncharacteristic slump in performance, while backup Philipp Grubauer shone brightly in the crease, forcing Trotz to make a difficult decision: continue playing the team’s franchise netminder or go with the “hot hand”. While it may not have been the most popular choice for some, benching Holtby in favor of the confident, steady Grubauer was ultimately the right one, and one that Trotz may not have made earlier in his tenure in D.C..But Trotz’ in-game decision-making (which was questioned at times during the team’s last two playoff runs) in the 2018 playoffs have been the x-factor to the Capitals’ unprecedented run to the Eastern Conference Final.
After finding themselves down 2-0 in their first round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Trotz made the decision to switch back to Holtby, and made some key lineup changes, moves that proved to be crucial to the Caps’ four straight wins that won them the series. But it was during the team’s second round matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins where Trotz’ evolution as a coach was put on full display. As mentioned above, Trotz’ in-game adjustments were questioned at times in the last two seasons, as the Pens downed the Capitals two consecutive seasons en route to consecutive Stanley Cups. This time, however, Trotz arguably outcoached the Penguins’ Mike Sullivan, making adjustments on the fly, and ensuring that one of Nicklas Backstrom or Evgeny Kuznetsov opposed Sidney Crosby on faceoff draws.
While the Capitals have a long climb in front of them in a loaded Tampa Bay Lightning team, their performance thus far has been encouraging to say put it lightly. But more than anything, Trotz’ evolution this season as a coach have proven that he can be the first Capitals’ coach in 20 years (since Ron Wilson) to reach the Stanley Cup Final, and maybe, just maybe, the first to ever lift the prized silver chalice above their heads. He has proven that like his players, he too can make changes to help give the team the best chance possible to win. And that, along with the results thus far, are enough to have faith that he can be the first coach in Capitals history to win it all.
By Michael Fleetwood