DALLAS – When Barry Trotz left the Washington Capitals fresh off winning the Stanley Cup, the New York Islanders couldn’t move fast enough to talk to him.
Minutes after word circulated that Trotz resigned from the Capitals, Islanders president of hockey operations Lou Lamoriello got in touch. On Thursday, the Islanders hired Trotz and hope to benefit from the first Stanley Cup-winning coach leaving his team in a contract dispute in 24 years.
“It’s certainly not something that you see every day,” Lamoriello said Thursday after the NHL general managers meeting. “But I think we’re the fortunate recipient of it that we were able to have him come in our organization.”
The Capitals weren’t willing to pay top dollar to keep Trotz in the fold, so the Islanders pounced and have a fresh selling point to try to retain face of the franchise John Tavares. Trotz, who brings his resume with the fifth-most wins in NHL history, two Presidents’ Trophy seasons and now a Stanley Cup, has already been in touch with Tavares, a 27-year-old point-a-game center who can begin speaking with other teams next week and become a free agent July 1.
“That’s something that really is John’s mind,” Lamoriello said. “We don’t know what he’s thinking, but certainly he’s a very important part of this franchise.”
Trotz considers himself one piece of the puzzle of re-signing Tavares and believes the process is in good hands with Lamoriello, who won the Cup three times as New Jersey’s GM and also helped turn Toronto back into a playoff team.
“If you know anything about those two parties, they are of the highest integrity, both of those gentlemen,” Trotz said of Lamoriello and Tavares. “I think that they’ll have great dialogue and we’re hoping to have John be a part of it.”
Trotz is now a part of it after the Islanders gave him the kind of long-term, big-money contract the Capitals weren’t willing to commit to the 55-year-old who coached them the past four seasons. The deal is reportedly for five years at $4 million or more annually, more than double what he would have made in Washington.
After hoping the Capitals would renegotiate the automatic two-year extension that kicked in for winning a Cup and offered only a $300,000 raise to about $2 million, Trotz took the chance on leaving and found an immediate home three days after resigning.
“It’s good to be wanted,” Trotz said. “It happened really quickly because you’re going from one emotion of winning the Cup to the next emotion of leaving the team you just won a Cup with and you have to make some quick decisions.”
The Capitals were barely done celebrating their first championship in franchise history when GM Brian MacLellan and Trotz sat down to talk contract. Trotz thought the deal he had with the Capitals was “a little unfair based on value around the league,” thanks in large part to the $50 million, eight-year contract Toronto’s Mike Babcock signed in 2015 that helped raise coaching salaries.
When it was clear to each side right away there wasn’t a fit, Trotz asked for and was granted his release. MacLellan wasn’t surprised Trotz immediately went to the Islanders.
“Could’ve guaranteed it,” MacLellan said. “I’m happy for him. I think he got what he wanted, and that’s a good opportunity for him. It’s a good payday for him, too. So it worked out good.”
It worked out great for the Islanders, who go from GM Garth Snow and previously inexperienced coach Doug Weight to Lamoriello and Trotz. They already have rookie of the year Mathew Barzal as a building block of the future, and now they have a coach who brings with him a shiny new Cup ring.
“What we need is we need an individual who can walk in that locker room with the players who are there who have not really had a lot of success and he walks in there with instant success,” Lamoriello said. “People follow that, and I think that that’s a very important thing for these young men.”
In the past 40 years, Trotz is just the fifth coach not to return to a Stanley Cup winner and the first since Scotty Bowman retired after winning with Detroit in 2002. Mike Keenan in 1994 was the last coach to leave a Cup champion in a contract dispute when he did not return to the New York Rangers.
MacLellan will move on to interviewing associate coach Todd Reirden to replace Trotz, but the strangeness of this situation isn’t lost on the veteran hockey executive.
“It’s so weird,” MacLellan said. “It’s awkward. It’s weird. I don’t know what to make of it. I don’t know what we could do with it.”
MacLellan said Trotz wanted to be compensated among the top four or five coaches in the NHL. His deal with the Islanders puts him behind Babcock, Chicago’s Joel Quenneville and Montreal’s Claude Julien – all fellow Cup winners – but ahead of most of the rest of the league.
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