The last time Barry Trotz was a free agent, he reportedly waited 30 minutes before the Washington Capitals called and offered him a job.
This time, he won’t have to wait nearly as long.
Less than two weeks after the veteran coach lifted the Stanley Cup for the first time in his career, Trotz quit his job on Monday after failing to come to terms on a contract extension.
Trotz, who was on the final year of his contract, would have probably been happy to sign an extension earlier in the year when the Capitals were treading water in the standings. But at the time, it didn’t seem as though the team wanted him back. That started to change in the playoffs, as Washington went further than it had in the history of the franchise.
According to Sportsnet’s Elliott Friedman, Trotz’s contract had a built-in, two-year extension if the Capitals won the Stanley Cup.
Suddenly, a coach who cameras caught mouthing “I’m done” to Columbus head coach John Tortorella after advancing past the first round, had been given a second life. But first, he expected a raise in salary.
Trotz, who spent the first 15 years of his NHL career behind the bench in Nashville, was not in a position to demand a huge salary when he took the job with Washington in 2015. After all, the Predators had never made it past the second round under his watch. But things have obviously changed in the last year. After leading Capitals to their very first championship, the 55-year-old is now up there with Mike Babcock, Joel Quenneville and Claude Julien as one of the top coaches in the NHL.
As such, he basically priced himself out of D.C.
The question is who leaves next?
Defenceman John Carlson? Fourth-line centre Jay Beagle and backup goalie Philipp Grubauer? The cook who prepares Alex Ovechkin’s pre-game lunch?
Paying people who have performed their job to the fullest of their capabilities is still a relatively new concept to the Capitals, who in the past 20 years had never made it past the second round of the playoffs. But as the Chicago Blackhawks know first-hand, having won three Stanley Cups in six years, with success comes costs — usually in the form of players who want to be rewarded for winning.
It’s why Pittsburgh’s back-to-back championships were so impressive in the salary-cap era. It’s also why Chicago finally missed the playoffs this year. There’s only so much you can do after losing three-quarters of your roster.
Arguably, Trotz’s departure hurts even more.
If Ovechkin is the heart of the Capitals, then Trotz was the main artery that controlled where the blood was pumping. His calm, sometimes self-deprecating demeanor, was the perfect antidote for a team that had been squeezing its collective sticks from years of early playoff exits.
It was Trotz who provided Ovechkin with a structured environment that highlighted — rather than stifled — the star player’s creativity. It was Trotz who lit a fire under Braden Holtby by sitting the Vezina Trophy-winning goalie for the first two games of the playoffs. It was Trotz who brought Evgeny Kuznetsov out of his shell, played the rookies, and gave Lars Eller and Devante Smith-Pelly more responsibility.
Every team in the NHL wants that type of coach and — after showing it leads to a championship — is also willing to pay for it.
Will Trotz receive a salary above the $6 million or $6.25 million that Chicago’s Quenneville and Toronto’s Babcock receive, respectively? Maybe not. But don’t be surprised if it’s somewhere in the neighbourhood of the $5 million that Montreal’s Julien earns, particularly if New York Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello believes Trotz could be the deciding factor in convincing John Tavares into re-signing long-term.
Or maybe the Wild, who recently hired longtime Predators assistant GM Paul Fenton, decides to cut ties with Bruce Boudreau and hire a coach to get Minnesota over the hump.
Either way, Trotz is in high demand and will be calling his shots this summer. And he’s not alone.
Carlson, who led defencemen in scoring in both the regular season and the playoffs, should have no trouble getting north of $7 million annually from either Washington or some other team. Beagle, who was on a cap-friendly $1.75-million deal, will be asking double or even triple that amount. And based on their playoff heroics, it’s safe to say that restricted free agents Tom Wilson ($2 million) and Smith-Pelly ($650,00) are in line for a huge bumps in pay.
What does this mean for the team in 2018-19?
Well, between losing their coach and possibly their No. 1 defenceman, it’s looking less and less likely that the Capitals will repeat as Cup winners next season.
With Barry Trotz gone, the dominoes are starting to fall in Washington. Here are four others that could be joining him as free agents:
John Carlson The minute-munching defenceman, who is a pending unrestricted free agent, scored a career-best 15 goals and 68 points in the regular season — most among defencemen — and also led his position in the playoffs with 20 points in 24 games.
Jay Beagle A fourth-line centre who can kill penalties, Beagle’s game is not particularly flashy. But he is pretty effective. He scored 13 goals two years ago and picked up eight points in 23 games in the playoffs. He is a UFA on July 1.
Philipp Grubauer Grubauer snatched the net away from Braden Holtby at the end of the season and was Washington’s starter in the first two games of the playoffs. As an unrestricted free agent, expect the 26-year-old to look for a chance to be a No. 1.
Devante Smith-Pelly Smith-Pelly arrived to Washington on a tryout offer after having his contract bought out by the Devils last year. The restricted free agent won’t have to jump through as many hoops after scoring seven goals in the playoffs.
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