B/R NHL Roundtable for This Week: Best Coaching Spots for Barry Trotz

BR NHL StaffFeatured Columnist IDecember 7, 2022

B/R NHL Roundtable for This Week: Best Coaching Spots for Barry Trotz

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    Barry Trotz of the New York Islanders poses with the Jack Adams Award after winning the award at the NHL Awards, Wednesday, June 19, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
    AP Photo/John Locher

    He's a former Stanley Cup winner and a two-time recipient of the Jack Adams Award, an honor given to the NHL's best coach.

    And he just so happens to be the hottest coaching free agent out there.

    For struggling NHL teams, the temptation to hire Barry Trotz must be quite high. The 60-year-old has been a part of three winning teams, finding success with the Nashville Predators, Washington Capitals and New York Islanders. His teams have never been the most exciting, but if you want a team to be defensively solid and strong physically, you hire Trotz.

    As we sail past the quarter mark of the NHL season, Trotz remains unemployed. With that in mind, the B/R NHL staff called together another roundtable to discuss the best landing spot for the acclaimed coach.

    Disagree with our takes? Submit your thoughts in the comments section of the app!

Nashville Predators

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    Nashville Predators head coach Barry Trotz instructs his players during NHL hockey training camp on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
    AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

    No, this is not a search for a happy memory, nor is it trying to right a wrong of sorts—this is a genuine suggestion. I am aware John Hynes signed a two-year extension in May to continue coaching the Predators, but walk with me down this road if you will.

    The Predators are in the thick of the playoff race in the Western Conference. They're within striking distance of third in the Central (yes, it's early, I know) and in the middle of the wild-card jockeying. But the Predators have a fair amount of pressure on them this season.

    The Predators dedicated a lot of money to their top players, including eight who carry cap hits of $5 million or higher. That kind of spending leads to expectations, which can in turn lead to tumult in the coach's office if those expectations aren't met.

    Hynes has been steady and gotten the Predators to the postseason in each of his first three seasons, but they're a combined 3-11 in those games and haven't advanced past the first round. Those numbers include Nashville's 3-1 series loss to the Arizona Coyotes in the bubble's best-of-five qualifying round in 2020.

    As the Predators get older, coming up short again and again comes with a price. Trotz is still a popular figure in Nashville, and with GM David Poile getting closer to retirement, potentially giving Trotz the opportunity to get involved in building the team in addition to coaching would be difficult to turn down.

    Bringing Barry Trotz back to Nashville—now wearing a Stanley Cup ring earned in Washington—would give reason for a hero's welcome in Music City, especially if he can lead the Predators to a deep playoff run.

    - Joe Yerdon

Anaheim Ducks

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    ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 23: Anaheim Ducks Center Trevor Zegras (11) reacts after the Ducks scored a goal in the second period an NHL hockey game against the New York Rangers played on November 23, 2022 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, CA. (Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    When they rose on Dec. 7, 2021—just 365 days ago—the Anaheim Ducks found themselves fourth in the West and 10th in the NHL with a 13-8-5 record, alongside high-end placements in both goals per game (3.31, seventh) and power-play percentage (27.0, third).

    Given all those successes, it’s difficult to believe just how far things have fallen.

    And how fast.

    Eighty-two games since have yielded a league-worst 24 victories and a second-worst .366 points percentage, not to mention the NHL's most-anemic offense (2.50 goals per game) and its fifth-highest goals-against average (3.66).

    And given that the most recent of those games have provided a 6-17-3 start to the 2022-23 season, there's no reason to believe it'll be better anytime soon.

    Unless, that is, the leadership changes.

    While Dallas Eakins seems a decent enough guy who's cordial with the media and kind to his peers, there's plenty of evidence to suggest he may not be an NHL-caliber coach.

    He won just 36 of 113 games across parts of two seasons with the Edmonton Oilers in 2013 and 2014 and hasn't sniffed the playoffs with the Ducks while finishing sixth (2019-20) and seventh (2021-22) in the Pacific Division and eighth in the West Division (2020-21) in three tries.

    Barring a miraculous turnaround, it'll be four straight playoff misses in southern California for Eakins and five straight overall for the franchise if he makes it to the finish line this season. That is far more mediocrity than most coaches get before an anxious general manager or an impatient ownership group pulls the plug.

    Trotz, on the other hand, is a proven winner—regardless of situation.

    He turned an expansion franchise into a relevant commodity in Nashville, helped a star-laden team get over the top to a Cup in Washington, and installed a system that helped an offensively challenged Islanders squad become the kings of New York with two straight final fours in the playoffs.

    Given talented young players like Trevor Zegras and Troy Terry, a serviceable goaltender in John Gibson and a stalwart defenseman in John Klingberg, it's a lock that he'd get more out of the Ducks as currently constituted than Eakins ever would.

    Add in the prospect of Connor Bedard and the lure of a proven coach in an enviable playing destination, and the free-agency period next summer could get a bit more interesting.

    For Mickey's sake, Pat Verbeek…make the call.

    - Lyle Fitzsimmons

St. Louis Blues

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    ST. LOUIS, MO - NOVEMBER 28: St. Louis Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington (50) acts after giving ups a goal late in the game during a NHL game between the Dallas Stars and the St. Louis Blues on November 28, 2022, at Enterprise Center in St. Louis, MO. (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The St. Louis Blues entered the season hoping to be a contender. In early August, The Athletic's Jeremy Rutherford wrote, "with the lengthy contract term for several aging players, they are in their championship now and have to win sooner than later."

    Instead, the Blues are one-third into their season and have a hill to climb to make the playoffs. St. Louis has 11 wins through 25 games and is enduring a four-game losing streak. This is despite most of their top players—Pavel Buchnevich, Robert Thomas and Vladimir Tarasenko among them—performing as expected.

    So where is it all going wrong? The defense and goaltending have been disastrous. The 2019 Stanley Cup Champions bleed scoring chances, and goaltender Jordan Binnington looks completely lost. The Blues have conceded three-plus goals in a single period in 13 games.

    General manager Doug Armstrong would surely like to fix that issue through a trade or two, but December isn't ripe for those types of moves, and the team has only $1.1 million in available cap space. As the cliché goes, it's easier to change the coach than change the roster.

    If there is anyone who can fix the team's defensive holes, it's Barry Trotz. He's built a reputation with three clubs over two decades as a head coach whose tactics provide an impenetrable structure.

    And, as it pertains to the Blues, his teams have usually performed better than their individual parts might suggest. Over the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons in which the Islanders made the Conference Finals in each, the Islanders finished seventh by expected goals against per 60 minutes, according to Evolving Hockey.

    Aside from shoring up the defensive structure itself, Trotz's impact could limit the responsibilities of Binnington, who has shown no capabilities as an NHL goaltender for the past two seasons. Trotz can't fix that, but he can mitigate the damage.

    Craig Berube will forever be a hero in St. Louis after guiding the team to a Stanley Cup. But now, in his fifth season as the head coach and seventh in the organization overall, it might be time for a new voice and a head coach with experience in tightening up a team's defensive structure.

    - Adam Herman

New York Rangers

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    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 03:  Jacob Trouba #8 of the New York Rangers throws his helmet in anger after a fight against the Chicago Blackhawks at Madison Square Garden on December 3, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)
    Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

    If there's a team in need of a shake-up, it's the Rangers.

    After reaching the Eastern Conference Final in the spring, things have devolved on Broadway.

    Granted, the Rangers' underperformance is not all on Gerard Gallant. The players have simply not reached expectations.

    Igor Shesterkin is mortal after winning the Vezina Trophy last year, with a save percentage (.910) and goals against average (2.67) off his career norms. The young players, particularly Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafrenière have had growing pains.

    B/R Open Ice @BR_OpenIce

    What’s the panic level in New York? <a href="https://twitter.com/AGretz?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@AGretz</a> checks in on the Rangers. 🍎 <a href="https://t.co/S6w1kcRkv2">https://t.co/S6w1kcRkv2</a> <a href="https://t.co/trWHYV35PR">pic.twitter.com/trWHYV35PR</a>

    Things were trending toward a complete meltdown until Monday's come-from-behind win over the St. Louis Blues. Nevertheless, Gallant may have the hottest seat in the NHL, and any more prolonged losing streaks will force general manager Chris Drury's hand.

    It's why a move for Barry Trotz makes a lot of sense. After a deep run to the Eastern Conference Final last season, anything less this year would be a major disappointment. Who better than Trotz, a proven winner and a man who can squeeze the best out of a defensive core that has struggled mightily this season?

    With the volatile James Dolan as the executive chairman of the team, it's fair to say the situation with the Rangers and Trotz is one to watch closely.

    - Lucky Ngamwajasat

A Curveball! Trotz Forgoes Coaching and Goes into the Front Office

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    VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA - JUNE 22: Head coach Barry Trotz (L) of the New York Islanders and general manager David Poile of the Nashville Predators talk on the draft floor during Rounds 2-7 of the 2019 NHL Draft at Rogers Arena on June 22, 2019 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
    Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

    Going back to Joe's Nashville pick, you might recall Trotz had a meeting with the Predators last spring—but it wasn't about coaching. Pierre LeBrun reported last June that Trotz "talked to his old club in Nashville about a potential role in the front office."

    It's been mentioned before after Trotz was let go by the Islanders that management could appeal to him at some point.

    I'd love to see a reunion with Trotz and his former team in any capacity, but I find the idea of him transitioning from head coaching to any NHL front office extremely enticing for a few reasons.

    He's always been an excellent communicator, and with his perspective behind the bench, he'd be fantastic at bridging any misunderstandings that pop up between the coaching staff and the front office. Most teams face minor internal disagreements a few times per season, and having someone with Trotz's experience to ease navigation could be huge.

    Further, he'd be a friendly face to other teams when it's time to make a trade, and you can't underestimate the power of front-facing likeability when you're making a deal in the NHL.

    Then, there's the fact that Trotz has already accomplished more than enough in his 25-year head coaching career, with a Stanley Cup and two Jack Adams awards to his name. That he took meetings about a front-office position was telling in itself, and perhaps this time off has given him even more perspective. A front-office role comes with its own stressors, but the right job could provide a new and enticing challenge for Trotz.

    - Sara Civian