It’s difficult to say what any relationship is like without being a part of it. There are just too many variables and missing pieces of information to make a sound and accurate assessment. When it comes to Barry Trotz’ resignation on Monday and his relationship with Capitals management, this is also very much the case. We just don’t know all of the factors that led up to Trotz’ decision to step down. In fact, we still haven’t heard Barry’s side of the story. However, we do know a few things regarding the timeline of events and can spotlight a few of the ominous sign posts along way.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when things began to sour between Trotz and the Capitals brass. Many have surmised that Trotz was never really in great standing with Brian MacLellan, as both were formally hired on the same date (May 26, 2014), by Capitals upper management. MacLellan was assigned Trotz, much more so than selecting him.
As Bill Parcels once said, “if you want me to cook the dinner, you need to let me buy the groceries”. MacLellan may have wanted his own head coach, all along the way. In the end, it’s clear that both sides were not happy with the situation.
Summer of 2016
The Capitals had just been eliminated by the Penguins in the second round of the Playoffs, and blew a 3-1 series lead against the Rangers in Trotz’ first postseason campaign in 2015, so there may have been some restlessness building in Ballston at the end of the 2015-2016 season. Postseason hurdles remained. Something the previous head coach was essentially released for.
The Capitals (publicly) promoted assistant coach Todd Reirden to Associate Coach in the summer of 2016 (August 29th). The move also came with a “no tampering” edict, forbidding teams to interview Reirden for a future head coaching position. It was rumored Buffalo and Florida were turned away at the door that summer.
When someone below you in an organization gets a promotion of this nature, it’s certainly not reassuring, and most likely added fuel to the fire. One could argue that this was a disrespectful move by the Caps, but maybe the writing was already on the wall? This may have been the first sign of the last straw, or simply as it appeared, the Capitals wanting to cover their bases, and keep Reirden in the fold for an unanticipated rainy day.
Summer of 2017
We have seen numerous reports that things began to (further?) unravel following the Capitals second round exit to the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins last spring. According to Sportsnet, “In the summer of 2017, the Presidents’ Trophy–winning Capitals were ousted in Round 2 by playoff nemesis Pittsburgh for the second consecutive spring. There were rumblings that Trotz’s decision to dress seven defencemen when things started going sideways in the Penguins series did not sit well with everybody. Trotz’ handling of the blueline had always drawn heat from critics.
In addition, Elliott Friedman reported that one Capitals player was quoted as saying people would be amazed at what has transpired since the Capitals defeat to the Penguins in the 2017 playoffs. Frightening words to be sure.
In addition, Trotz publicly stated that he did plenty of soul-searching in the summer of 2017, and came to a peaceful conclusion about things. Trotz referenced last summer as a defining moment in his coaching career. “I went through a few things last summer that gave me some real good clarity on how I define myself or how I define people. It’s given me a real clarity. This is a time to enjoy, live in the moment.” Trotz has kept the details of what he personally endured last summer private. Reading between the lines, that sounds like a decision had been made on his part.
That’s a lot of heavy talk for an off-season. It’s amazing the Capitals made it to the beginning of the 2017-2018 season without any changes.
Hockey media covering the Capitals, including Pierre Maguire, Ted Starkey and others, had heard that this was likely going to be Trotz’ final year with the Capitals. Trotz had talked about taking a year off, among other plans, rather than coaching next fall. This could have been negotiating tactics or truth. It was very likely truth in hindsight.
It was also reported that Trotz and the coaching staff may have been very close to undergoing in-season changes. After a mid-season slump, rumors were percolating that changes were coming, but the Capitals righted the ship, and the rumors were quieted.
The rest is history, the Capitals won their first Stanley Cup. In a strange way, this messed up everyone’s plans.
Winning The Cup
The contract negotiations may or may not have been a formality. Both sides were saying the right things after hoisting the Cup on the Vegas strip on June 7th. It felt like an extension was on the way. There may have been a change of heart by one or both parties, but in the end, it wasn’t going to happen.
By winning the Cup, Barry Trotz’ existing contract, which would have expired on July 1st, had an automatic two-year extension built-in, with a $300,000 raise included. It is surmised that the new contract value would still have him remaining in the bottom third of the league, as far as head coaches salaries are concerned.
Money was likely a factor, but not the most important factor. Brian MacLellan told media that the two sides were stuck on the term of an extension (5 years). Barry Trotz has yet to publicly discuss the topic in depth, so we really only have half the story to this point. It’s likely Trotz felt disrepsected.
The is no question, the next coach (Reirden?) is in a tough spot, maybe even a “no win” situation (unless the Capitals win the Cup). It will be tough for fans to look back on this time and not consider it a major misstep should the Capitals string together a few seasons of missing the playoffs, or even early round exits in post season play. As they say, only time will tell the whole story.
By Jon Sorensen