Nearly five years ago, the Capitals had just finished the 2013-14 season out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in seven seasons and relieved both longtime General Manager George McPhee and then-Head Coach Adam Oates of their duties after a 38-30-14 season that saw the team’s and individual players’ performances decline. Shortly thereafter, the Capitals brought in veteran bench boss Barry Trotz and promoted former Assistant General Manager Brian MacLellan to lead a new era of Capitals hockey. And in four years, Trotz (as well as MacLellan) turned the fortunes of one team around for the better.
Trotz’ experience as an NHL head coach was something the Capitals desperately needed after three failed experiments in Bruce Boudreau, Dale Hunter, and Adam Oates. And while the team failed to win the Stanley Cup in his first three seasons behind the bench, it was during the 2017-18 season that I got the feeling this team had the resiliency and motivation from three seasons of falling short to potentially go far come springtime.
While the 2014-15, 2015-16, and 2016-17 seasons were all ultimately for naught in terms of the outcome in the playoffs, they were, without a doubt, some of the most memorable seasons I have experienced as a fan of the team. After the absymal 2013-14 season, in which the team missed the postseason for the first time in seven seasons, it was hard to imagine the Capitals as anywhere close to winning a championship. But Trotz’ arrival and subsequent turnaround of the team once again revitalized that confidence the team could be a legitimate contender.
Last season was a culmination of work put in by arguably, the best coach in Capitals’ history. He is the only coach in the franchise’s 44-year history to take the team all the way to the finish line and while he may not be the winningest coach in terms of wins, he has the highest win percentage in the regular season (.677) and is the winningest bench boss in the playoffs. He is just one of two Caps head coaches (the other being Bruce Boudreau in 2008) to win the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s best coach. And when one considers the culture set in place by Trotz upon his arrival, and the lasting impact it has had on the team, there is no denying that Trotz’ legacy in Washington goes beyond the championship last spring.
After years of watching the team fall short and feeling as though the day when I would be able to celebrate a Stanley Cup championship was still a long way off, I would like to take this time to thank Barry Trotz for leaving me with some of the most memorable years of my life as a Capitals fan, for the culture he instilled in the team I love, and for being the coach to raise Lord Stanley’s mug for the first time in franchise history.
By Michael Fleetwood