SEINFELD’S George Costanza was obsessed with many things, including leaving the room on a high note.
He couldn’t have topped Barry Trotz, who resigned Monday as coach of the Washington Capitals, 11 days after winning the Stanley Cup. Trotz’s mic drop also left a lot of jaws dropping.
It wasn’t a complete surprise; amateur lip readers caught Trotz telling Columbus coach John Tortella “I’m not coming back” after Washington’s first-round playoff victory. Still, it’s rare to see a coach or player walk away on top.
We’ll probably learn Trotz’s real motivation in the days and weeks to come, but there are several plausible explanations.
He may have been miffed that the Capitals didn’t offer to extend his expiring contract before the playoffs, despite his successful track record of 13 straight non-lockout winning seasons in Nashville and Washington. Or that the clause in his contract for winning the Cup didn’t put him anywhere near the $6 million annual salaries of the NHL’s top coaches.
Trotz might be tempted by the New York Islanders’ coaching vacancy. Or he may simply be spent from the grind of professional coaching. He has a special-needs son, and spoke before the Stanley Cup Final of the perspective he has gained through interaction with his son.
“When I come home, he doesn’t know if we won or lost. And he doesn’t care,” said Trotz, who said he learned not to agonize over daily results.
Whatever Trotz’s reason, his resignation is the first of several dominoes that will determine exactly what the defending Cup champion Capitals will look like in 2018-19.
Washington has an heir apparent in associate coach Todd Reirden, whom the Capitals declined to make available to rival teams with coaching vacancies last summer. Reirden, 46, would be the obvious choice if general manager Brian MacLellan wants stability.
Change seems inevitable elsewhere. Defenseman John Carlson will be one of the NHL’s most sought-after free agents in the weeks ahead, and forward Devante Smith-Pelly is sure to get a substantial raise from his league-minimum contract after matching his regular-season total of seven regular-season goals in the playoffs.
Veteran center Jay Beagle is also a free agent. The Capitals may not be able to afford to keep any of them (let alone all three) under the league’s salary cap.
Otherwise, the roster should be solid, although it’s fair to wonder whether Alex Ovechkin is due for a decline of skills and motivation as he nears his 33rd birthday, especially after achieving his career-long goal of hoisting the Cup.
Fortunately, emerging star Evgeny Kuznetsov seems ready to take the baton as the team’s leader, which could ease Ovechkin’s load. Goalie Braden Holtby and wingers T.J. Oshie and Tom Wilson are still in their primes, and Nick Backstrom still has plenty left in the tank. Add a promising group of young players who matured during the Cup run, and the Capitals will remain contenders to repeat.
But if talent were the only requirement, the Capitals would have won the Cup long ago.
In his fourth season in D.C., Trotz found the right buttons to push and earned his players’ undying respect, despite the fact that neither he nor they had advanced past the second round of the playoffs before this spring. Trotz was the sober successor to the ultra-loose Bruce Boudreau, although he showed his playful side by taking the morning “hot skate” during the playoffs.
Simply plugging in Reirden won’t guarantee continued success. Washington’s NFL team promoted longtime assistant Richie Petitbon to replace the retiring Joe Gibbs in 1992, triggering a quarter-century downward spiral. The Nationals have asked Davey Johnson, Matt Williams, Dusty Baker and now Dave Martinez to manage a talented roster over the past seven years, and still haven’t won a playoff series.
Trotz’s resignation provides some clarity as the Capitals ponder a critical summer of off-season moves and probable departures. Even if Carlson and Smith-Pelly cash in elsewhere, though, Trotz may prove to be the toughest to replace.