Getty

Winnipeg Jets have finally arrived

10 Comments

After relocating from Atlanta prior to the 2011-12 season the Winnipeg Jets’ existence has been the definition of mediocrity.

It’s also been painfully dull.

A snails pace rebuild (if you want to even call it that) with almost zero trades of consequence and no free agent signings of significance has meant that the results on the ice have been a continuation of the mediocre results they produced during their time in Atlanta. There are still Not quite good enough to be a playoff team. Not quite bad enough to be an embarrassment or land a top draft pick to net a franchise player (though, that changed when their number came up in the draft lottery to get Patrik Laine … but more on that in a bit).

They have just sort of … existed. This is an organization that is still, 18 seasons into its existence, searching for its first ever postseason win. Not postseason series win. Postseason win. Period.

Since moving to Winnipeg it has been a bizarre team to watch from the outside, especially in recent seasons.

There has been a lot of individual talent on the team. When you look at the roster on paper and see what some of the players have produced, especially in recent seasons, it’s baffling to see how little team success that has all translated to. They should have been better.

So far this season, the results are starting to show up.

After their 7-4 win over the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday night the Jets enter Saturday with the best record in the Western Conference and are off to one of the best starts in franchise history.

They are looking like they might be for real and that their time as a legit contender may have finally arrived.

How did it finally happen?

Let’s start with the big one: They are finally getting decent goaltending.

One of the biggest factors in the Jets’ mediocrity over the past eight years has been a constant void in net. They committed to Ondrej Pavelec for too long, never really tried to find a better solution, and were consistently sunk by sub-par goaltending on a nightly basis.

They signed Steve Mason this summer, but the job has been taken over to this point by Connor Hellebuyck with a .923 save percentage entering play on Saturday.

Just to give you an idea as to how much of an issue goaltending has been, and how much of a difference it is making this season, consider where the Jets have ranked in team save percentage since the start of the 2011-12 season.

2011-12: 25th

2012-13: 21st

2013-14: 24th

2014-15: 12th (only playoff year)

2015-16: 27th

2016-17: 28th

When you get goaltending like that you’re not even giving yourself a chance to compete.

The thing about this Jets roster is that with the way it is currently constructed and the talent that it has up front they don’t need elite goaltending to have a chance. Even if Hellebuyck sees a slight regression in his performance as long as he is able to avoid being one of the bottom-10 goalies in the league they should still have a chance.

Which brings us to the other big factor in the Jets’ improvement: They are finally being rewarded for their patience.

Since being named general manager of the team Kevin Cheveldayoff has taken a “build from within” approach. Wanting to build through the draft isn’t exactly a unique thing. Every team wants to do that. But the Jets have taken it to the extreme, so much so that in the seven years he has been in charge of the team he has only made two trades that involved NHL players going in each direction.

Combined with a lack of significant free agent moves and it has been an astonishing level of inactivity for an NHL team.

But the drafts are finally starting to pay off and the Jets actually have a core of young, talented players that can be organizational building blocks for a long, long time.

Four of the team’s top-five scorers right this season are age 24 or younger, including three (Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers and Kyle Connor) that are age 21 or younger.

Since the start of the 2015-16 season Mark Scheifele (currently the team’s leading scorer) and the criminally underrated Blake Wheeler have been two of the top-eight point producers in the NHL.

Only six players have scored more goals than Laine since the start of last season (Laine’s first in the NHL), while Ehlers is on pace for his second 60-plus point season before his age 22 season.

These are all top-line players and currently some of the most productive in the entire NHL. And other than Wheeler, they are all still young enough that their best days might still be in front of them.

Put all of that together and you have a team that has been one of the best offensive teams in the league for two years now and one that probably still has a chance to get better.

Winnipeg fans waited a long to get an NHL team back, and for six years the team they were given was just a rebranded version of the Atlanta Thrashers that just happened to be playing in a different city.

It’s taken a long time, and a lot of patience, but they finally have a team that is worth getting excited about and a team that might actually be worthy of being labeled as a contender.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Contract request led to breakup between Barry Trotz, Capitals

Getty Images
12 Comments

Barry Trotz’s desire for a big salary raise and five-year extension was the beginning of the end of his tenure with the Washington Capitals.

Trotz, who resigned on Monday after earning a two-year extension that was triggered by the Capitals’ Stanley Cup victory, wanted to be paid as one of the NHL’s top coaches, but the team was hesitant to make that kind of commitment. It was reported that Trotz was earning $1.5 million per season and the new deal would have only increased his salary by $300,000 a year.

The money and the term requested was a little too much for the Capitals.

“There are probably three, four guys that are making that money, so it’s the upper echelon. It’s the big-revenue teams,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said, referring to the salaries of coaches like Mike Babcock, Claude Julien and Joel Quenneville.

“I don’t think all teams pay that type of money and years. Certain teams are open to it and the rest of the league isn’t,” he added.

MacLellan described the five-year contract ask as a “sticking point.”

“You have a coach that’s been here four years, you do another five, that nine years,” he said. “There’s not many coaches that have that lasting ability. It’s a long time and it’s a lot of money to be committing to a coach.”

[Barry Trotz steps down as Capitals head coach]

If you look at the Capitals’ head coaching history over the last 16 years, they haven’t gone out of their way to open up the checkbook to pay for a big-name, high-priced coach. Before Trotz arrived in 2014, you had Adam Oates, Dale Hunter, Bruce Boudreau, Glen Hanlon and Bruce Cassidy all getting their first NHL head coaching gigs in D.C.

MacLellan said he was hopeful that both sides could work out a short-term deal, but Trotz clearly wanted security and to rightly use the leverage of a Cup victory to cash in. The GM did note that he accepted Trotz’s resignation so he’s free to pursue offers from other teams to coach next season.

As for where the Capitals go next, Todd Reirden is the front-runner to replace Trotz. Bumped up to “associate coach” in 2016, the organization values him and has been grooming him to become a head coach, either with the franchise or elsewhere. MacLellan said Reirden will get a formal interview.

“We’ll see how the talk goes with him and then we’ll make a decision based on that,” he said. “If it goes well, we’ll pursue Todd. If it doesn’t, then we’ll open it up a little bit.”

MORE:Where does NHL’s coaching carousel stop after Trotz resignation?

————

Sean Leahy is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Where does NHL’s coaching carousel stop after Trotz resignation?

Getty
6 Comments

The NHL’s coaching carousel is officially in motion after the stunning news from Monday that Barry Trotz is stepping down as head coach of the Washington Capitals less than two weeks after lifting the Stanley Cup.

It leaves a lot of questions to be answered in the coming days and weeks. Let’s get into some of them!

Is the Capitals’ job Todd Reirden’s to lose?

At the start of the playoffs the possibility of Trotz not returning to Washington seemed to be very real, especially given his contract situation.

If the Capitals fell short of winning the Stanley Cup yet again it seemed inevitable that a coaching change was going to be coming.

Then the Capitals went and actually won the Stanley Cup and at that point it seemed inevitable that Trotz was absolutely going to return, especially when general manager Brian MacLellan said right after the Game 5 victory that if Trotz wanted to return, he would. The whole contract extension issue kept getting pushed back, and then Monday’s news broke that winning the Stanley Cup actually kicked in an automatic two-year extension for Trotz — an extension that would have been below market value for a Cup-winning coach.

With the two sides unable to work out a suitable extension, Trotz stepped down creating the new opening.

The obvious answer here is a promotion from within, and they seem to have a replacement already waiting in current assistant coach Todd Reirden.

[Related: Barry Trotz steps down as Capitals head coach]

Reirden has been with the Capitals as an assistant since the 2014-15 season and has been mentioned as a candidate for several head coaching vacancies in recent years, but the Capitals — obviously valuing him as a coach — did not allow him to interview for head coaching vacancies a year ago. In 2016, he was promoted to associate coach.

One thing is for sure, no matter who takes that job would be facing an enormous amount of pressure. You are not only replacing a coach that just finally helped end the organization’s Stanley Cup drought, but the coach that is without question the most successful coach in the history of the franchise. Expectations are going to be through the roof.

What are Trotz’s options?

Now that Trotz is a free agent his situation becomes especially intriguing because as the reigning Stanley Cup winning coach he can pretty much call his shot.

At the moment his options are extremely limited as the New York Islanders are the only team without a head coach. That could be a pretty intriguing job, especially if the Islanders are able to get superstar center John Tavares re-signed before he hits the open market. That is a dynamic offensive team that could have a superstar in Tavares (assuming he re-signs), an emerging star in Mathew Barzal, another 40-goal scorer in Anders Lee, and two other really strong top-six forwards in Josh Bailey and Jordan Eberle. They need to solidify the back end and the disastrous goaltending situation (think about the possibility of a Trotz and Philip Grubauer reunion in Brooklyn!) but there is a lot to work with there.

The Islanders had a bad year, but it is not a situation that is going to require an extensive, lengthy rebuild. With a few tweaks here and there this could be a playoff team this season.

But if that doesn’t appeal to Trotz (or if the Islanders can’t make an agreement work) he is going to have to play the waiting game.

There is always the possibility that another team could see Trotz become available and decide to make a coaching change given the opportunity to add someone of that caliber.

Other than that it might be a waiting game until someone decides to pink slip their coach during the 2018-19 season. There were no coaching changes during the 2017-18 season (almost unheard of in the NHL) but given the availibility of Trotz it is not a stretch to think that a team like St. Louis, Minnesota, or Anaheim could make a change early in the season if things are not going well out of the gate.

The other option: Trotz takes the entire year off and starts fresh in 2019. He would still have the drawing card of being a Stanley Cup winning coach, still be a big name, and still be at the top of almost every “want list” for a team with a vacancy.

Either way, Trotz’s decision on Monday unexpectedly threw the NHL’s coaching carousel into overdrive and it is going to be fascinating to see where it stops.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Barry Trotz steps down as Capitals head coach

Getty
36 Comments

Some massive news from the Stanley Cup champions on Monday as the Washington Capitals announced that Barry Trotz is stepping down as head coach of the team.

“After careful consideration and consultation with my family, I am officially announcing my resignation as Head Coach of the Washington Capitals,” said Trotz in a statement.

“When I came to Washington four years ago we had one goal in mind and that was to bring the Stanley Cup to the nation’s capital. We had an incredible run this season culminating with our players and staff achieving our goal and sharing the excitement with our fans. I would like to thank Mr. Leonsis, Dick Patrick and Brian MacLellan for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this great organization. I would also like to thank our players and staff who worked tirelessly every day to achieve our success.”

At this point you might be thinking to yourself, “wasn’t Trotz a free agent after this season with an expiring contract? What exactly is he stepping down from?” 

Well, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that was going to be true had the Capitals not won the Stanley Cup. But Trotz’s contract had a clause in it that kicked in an automatic two-year extension if the Capitals won the Cup, which they obviously did earlier this month when they defeated the Vegas Golden Knights in five games. According to Friedman the extension was for below the market value given the exploding market for coaching contracts in the NHL.

TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports that it was a $300,000 raise that would have brought his contract value to $1.8 million per year.

The two sides attempted to negotiate a new extension but could not come to terms.

Now that Trotz has resigned, the Capitals will grant permission to any team that wishes to hire Trotz, essentially making him a free agent.

Other than the Capitals, the only other team in the NHL without a head coach at the moment is the New York Islanders and it would be absolutely shocking if they did not have some serious interest in hiring him.

The last two coaches to leave a Stanley Cup champion the year after winning were Scotty Bowman when he retired following the Detroit Red Wings’ win in 2002 and Mike Keenan following the New York Rangers’ win in 1994.

During Trotz’s four years with the team the Capitals won the Stanley Cup, two Presidents’ Trophies, and compiled a 205-89-34 record. No other team in the NHL won more than 192 games during that stretch.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Report: Ryane Clowe to join ECHL’s Newfoundland Growlers as head coach

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Newfoundland Growlers will be the ECHL’s newest team for the 2018-19 season. They have a pretty sweet logo and now have their first head coach.

According to The Telegram, the Growlers are set to name former NHLer Ryane Clowe as head coach this week. Clowe has spent the last two seasons as one of John Hynes’ assistants with the New Jersey Devils.

Last week, the Growlers announced an affiliation agreement with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The 35-year-old Clowe, who saw his career end due to concussions, last played in the 2014-15 season, but got his first taste of coaching during the 2012 NHL lockout. After joining up with the ECHL’s now-defunct San Francisco Bulls to skate with the team, he found himself helping out behind the bench during games. That’s when the door opened to a post-playing career.

“It kind of opened my eyes to something maybe after (I finished playing) that I was thinking about possibly doing,” Clowe told Kevin Kurz of The Athletic earlier this season. “I was like, you know what, this is something I really enjoyed when I was behind (the bench). It’s not playing, but it’s kind of second-best. 

“I would have liked to go on longer (as a player), but to get in on an NHL staff right away and now be behind the bench is fortunate.”

During his two years on Hynes’ staff, Clowe was actually still under contract with the Devils as the five-year deal he signed with the team in 2013 finally expires on July 1. He did some scouting for the team in 2015-16, but coaching was the area he found he really wanted to dive into.

“Once I got into coaching, I knew that was where I wanted to be,” Clowe told The Telegram last summer. “And I know that if I get out, not only is it hard getting back in, but I’d likely have to start at the bottom.”

Now Clowe gets to be part of an organization starting from scratch and use the experience he gained from the past two years in New Jersey to get the Growlers off to a good start in their inaugural season.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.