This post is part of Capitals Day on PHT…
When the Capitals hired Barry Trotz three years ago, they said he was “the only coach we coveted,” calling him “an ideal fit to help lead our club.”
And in many ways, Trotz has been an ideal fit. He’s led to the club to consecutive Presidents’ Trophies, racking up 156 wins over the course of three seasons. He won the 2016 Jack Adams as coach of the year. Players have performed exceptionally well on his watch: Braden Holtby won his first-ever Vezina, Alex Ovechkin racked up a pair of Rocket Richard trophies and both Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov were named All-Stars.
Despite all this, Trotz is now coaching for his job. Essentially.
A string of disheartening playoff failures — each more painful than the last — have put him in an uncomfortable and pressure-packed situation. He’s heading into the the last of his four-year deal with no contract certainty beyond.
Yes, it’s true Caps GM Brian MacLellan didn’t make any changes with Trotz or to his coaching staff following the Game 7 loss to Pittsburgh.
Brian Burke once likened this scenario to being a lame duck. Trotz refused to see it that way, insisting that he wasn’t worried about the spot he was in.
“No,” he told CSN Mid Atlantic in June, when asked if not having a contract changes his approach at all. “It has 0.0 effect on me, actually. Not at all. I think it might have [had] an effect 10, 12 years ago for me. Not now. It has zero effect.
“I’m not worrying about that at all.”
This is pretty much on par with Trotz’s messaging from the moment Washington crashed out of the playoffs. While his players were visibly dejected and downright hurt during locker clean-out day, the 55-year-old was upbeat.
Trotz talked about how the team’s window wasn’t closed, and how it would eventually “break through that barrier.” He suggested “laughing at the past” could “ease us into the future.”
The assembled media took note of this, which contrasted the vibe of his visibly distraught players. So it was asked — why did he seem more upbeat than his players?
“Put it this way — I haven’t slept in two friggin’ days. To say that I don’t feel very distraught, that really sort of angers me, because talk to my family to see if I’m distraught.
“I have to be positive in terms of, ‘do I think we’re going in the right direction?’ Yes, and I’m positive of that. But we haven’t broken through. That’s why I’m probably the way I am. I also said we didn’t get to where we wanted to get to.
“That angers me. When something doesn’t go your way, you can roll up in a ball and feel sorry for yourself. I don’t.”
That Trotz took this approach isn’t surprising. Coaching is a leadership role, and there didn’t seem to be any point to piling onto what was already a fairly miserable day in D.C.
So hey, why not keep that vibe going when it comes to contract uncertainty?
Trotz will likely continue to do so, even in the face of growing pressure. And pressure will continue to grow. Remember, there’s one final and very important dynamic at play — right next to Trotz behind the Washington bench is assistant coach Todd Reirden. The same Todd Reirden who’s thought to be a head-coach-in-waiting, and has been tied to previous openings in Colorado and Florida.
Fun times in Washington. As they always are.