By Steve Silverman
Barry Trotz is currently a free agent.
He is living in the euphoria of having led the Washington Capitals to their first Stanley Cup, and he clearly did a brilliant job of leading the Caps through four rounds of the postseason, beating the Blue Jackets, Penguins, Lightning and Golden Knights in the process.
All of the decisive series victories came on the road, and that’s indicative of the mental toughness on a team that never seemed to have that characteristic in previous years.
It seemed like the Washington may have been expecting yet another playoff failure before the start of the playoffs, and when they fell behind the Blue Jackets 2-0 in the opening round – both losses at home – it seemed as if Trotz was being fitted for a proverbial coaching coffin.
But now he is on top of the world. He is due for a new contract, and the Capitals would like to give him one.
Trotz was an excellent head coach before the win in terms of building a team, keeping the locker room happy and preparing each player to perform at his best. He also knows how to keep things in perspective, which his players appreciate.
Think about John Tortorella and his so-called intensity and one-on-one confrontations. Trotz may be the opposite of that.
General manager Brian MacLellan has said publicly that Trotz can return if he wants to, and Trotz says that returning to Washington is something that is a strong possibility.
Unless a team fires its current coach, the only opening behind the bench is with the New York Islanders. General manager Lou Lamoriello has an opening to fill, and while he has to turn his attention to re-signing free agent John Tavares, there’s no reason he couldn’t make a solid offer to Trotz if he wants to bring in the best coach available.
Mike Babcock is the highest paid coach in the league. He signed an eight-year, $50 million contract when he left the Detroit Red Wings to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Claude Julien of the Montreal Canadiens and Joel Quenneville of the Chicago Blackhawks are both in the $5 million range.
Look for Trotz to get a contract in the $4-5 million range per year. It would be smart for Capitals owner Ted Leonsis and MacLellan to act sooner rather than later. The Caps finally have the right formula for postseason success, and Trotz is the architect.
He needs to be brought back into the fold.
Golden Knights may have tough time in Year 2
It was a remarkable first year for the Vegas Golden Knights as they finished in first place in the Pacific Division, and then were even better in the playoffs.
The expansion team was nearly perfect in sweeping the Los Angeles Kings in the first round. The Kings are an offensively challenged team, but the Golden Knights smothered them. The second-round victim was the San Jose Sharks, and after splitting the first four games, the Knights proved to be the tougher and more focused team.
The Winnipeg Jets appeared to be a more talented and gifted team than Vegas, but head coach Gerard Gallant had an answer for everything the Jets did and earned the Western Conference title in five games.
The clock struck midnight after Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and the third period magic that they had in the first three rounds transferred to the Capitals.
Year 2 may be a much more difficult season for Gallant and general manager George McPhee.
For one thing, everybody will turn it up a notch when they face the Golden Knights. Nobody will think of Vegas as an expansion team, and beating the Knights, especially on their home ice, will be a notch in the belt of the victorious team.
Additionally, there’s the matter of the pending free agents that McPhee has to consider. William Karlsson scored a remarkable 43 goals during the regular season and he is a restricted free agent. Does McPhee commit to him based on his explosive season, or do they look at Karlsson as a player who had a once-in-a-career year and let him walk?
Free agents James Neal, Ryan Reaves, Luca Sbisa and David Perron could all take their talents off of the strip and go elsewhere.
The team has 27 draft picks over the next three years, and McPhee could get back to his original plan and building his team from within. But now that the fans have had a huge dose of early success, McPhee may come to the conclusion that the Golden Knights have to put a dynamic product on the ice every season.
No matter what McPhee decides to do, it will be next-to-impossible for the team to match its 2017-18 success in its second year.
This and that …
Phil Kessel and the Pittsburgh Penguins could part company in the offseason, perhaps as soon as at the upcoming draft.
Kessel was not happy as the playoffs came to an end because head coach Mike Sullivan did not play him with Evgeni Malkin. That’s who Kessel prefers to play with, and he was not the happiest camper during the playoffs.
General manager Jim Rutherford said that the situation does not mean Kessel will be traded, but that’s the kind of thing that a general manager says publicly.
Behind the scenes, he may be working hard to move Kessel, because he’s the kind of player who can cause locker room issues if he is not happy.
Rutherford has said that the Penguins will not have the same team when they report to training camp in September, and the belief here is that Kessel won’t be wearing the Penguins’ black and gold next season.