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.
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.