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Don’t forget how great Kuznetsov, Backstrom were for Capitals

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As obnoxious as any Internet debate can be, bickering about who should win the Conn Smythe can help cement the below-the-fold stars who didn’t land the playoff MVP.

For example: it will never not boggle my mind that Chris Pronger ended his career without that award. Sure, he was a fire-breathing monster on the ice at times, but that was the point.

From a big picture perspective, it’s fitting that Alex Ovechkin won it this year after sparking the Washington Capitals’ run to a first-ever Stanley Cup. His 15 goals and 27 points were crucial to that run, and his epic celebration is leaving us hungover.

But was he truly the right choice from an objective standpoint? To my eyes, and in the mind of many others, Evgeny Kuznetsov would have been the truest choice.

So, with Ovechkin hamming it up (rightfully so) and Braden Holtby enjoying a well-deserved victory lap for “The Save” and reclaiming his spot among the elite, let’s take this moment to shine a light on another key element of Washington’s run: their two star centers.

A postseason for the ages

Again, it’s tough to deny that Kuznetsov was the real Conn Smythe winner.

He wasn’t that far behind Ovechkin’s 15 goals, as Kuznetsov netted 12. They both were tied with two game-winners in that regard.

The pivot’s playmaking was a sight to behold, as he collected almost a helper per game (20 assists in 24 contests).

It would be refreshing to see voters take especially strong work during the Stanley Cup Final into account, too. Now, Ovechkin was no slouch against the Golden Knights, generating three goals and two assists in five games. During that same span, Kuznetsov was killer, though, producing a goal and seven assists for eight points.

Kuznetsov’s 32 points weren’t just a playoff record for the Capitals and the top mark for the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. That mark also stands as the most points generated in a postseason since Evgeni Malkin collected a whopping 36 points during Pittsburgh’s 2008-09 surge. (Ovechkin’s 27 points leave him tied with Sidney Crosby‘s work last postseason for ninth best during that same period of time.)

Remarkably, Malkin’s 36 points and Kuznetsov’s 32 also stand as the two best outputs since the lockout wiped out the 2004-05 season; you need to go as far back as Joe Sakic’s 34 points from 1995-96 before you’ll find a total that dislodges Kuznetsov for second place.

Praising Kuznetsov isn’t about denigrating Ovechkin, who enjoyed a run for the ages and deserves to soak in the limelight after a decade of absorbing an unfair portion of Capitals criticism.

Instead, it’s about doing our best to make sure that his magical run isn’t lost in time.

“He was unbelievable,” Ovechkin said of Kuznetsov after the series, via the Associated Press. “He makes the magic over there.”

Backstrom shows his might

Kuznetsov managed to generate point after point even though it seemed like he might miss a game or more of the series thanks to a hard hit by Brayden McNabb. That thought dovetails nicely into much-needed praise for Nicklas Backstrom.

While you only need to glance at the very top of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs’ points leaders to notice Kuznetsov’s presence, Backstrom’s work was diluted by being limited to 20 games.

Despite clearly playing at less than 100 percent, Backstrom managed more than a point per contest, generating 23 in those 20 games. His assist on this Ovechkin power-play goal stood as a healthy reminder that it’s easy to scream “Cover Ovechkin’s office,” but it’s also easy to forget that the Capitals simply have the passers to make that bread-and-butter play so difficult to stop.

Seriously, acting as though it’s “easy” to stop that is the ultimate in armchair quarterbacking/defending. There aren’t many humans capable of getting that pass through an entire penalty kill unit, but Backstrom is one of them (Kuznetsov, too).

Of course, points aren’t everything. Luckily, Backstrom remained his Selke-level self during the postseason, allowing Barry Trotz to pick and choose matchups how he pleased. The Kuznetsov – Backstrom combination was instrumental in allowing the Capitals to go toe-to-toe with the Penguins’ scoring depth, the Lightning’s dangerous weapons, and the Golden Knights’ impressive top line.

For a player who suffered his own torment during clutch moments, Backstrom showed his toughness and made a real argument for how great he can be.

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Look, we can debate Ovechkin vs. Kuznetsov all day, but they were both fantastic. The point is to recall their efforts, not to mention great work by Holtby, Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, and others. Here’s hoping this post fights the fading of such memories.

Now, let’s get back to more important matters: bickering about Chris Pronger.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Contract request led to breakup between Barry Trotz, Capitals

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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?

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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?

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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

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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

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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.

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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.