DALLAS — Barry Trotz resigned from the Washington Capitals on Monday, just 11 days after he and the team won the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. He was spotted wearing a suit at the Newark airport later that afternoon, fueling speculation that he was meeting with the New York Islanders, the only team that had a head-coaching vacancy. Three days later, Trotz became the Islanders’ new coach Thursday, while the Capitals have yet to name his replacement.
Trotz’s departure from the Capitals was largely a result of financial differences: The coach was seeking a new five-year deal with an annual salary of around $5 million, a significant bump from the $1.5 million he made last season. Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan said Trotz’s asking price was a “sticking point.”
The Islanders and Lou Lamoriello, their new general manager, didn’t meet Trotz’s price but apparently came close. According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the deal is believed to be in the neighborhood of $20 million over five years.
The Islanders have missed the playoffs the past two seasons, but New York was one of the highest-scoring teams in the NHL last season. In a conference call with reporters Thursday, Trotz implied he felt undercompensated in Washington.
“I went to the Caps and said: ‘You know, it’s a little unfair based on value around the league. Just tell me if anything could be done,’ ” Trotz said. “When I got the response, I knew it was time to go in a different direction.”
Asked whether he felt the Capitals wanted him back, Trotz said: “We had just won a Cup together. I don’t think that was an issue. It was more principle.”
“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. I know the timing of it, end of the season, the draft coming up, free agency, all that, there was some urgency on that. Both parties knew that so we went to work on it and got it done.”
Once the Capitals accepted Trotz’s resignation, there were no restrictions on where he could coach next, and his move to a Metropolitan Division opponent that the Capitals will play at least four times per season stings.
At the Monday news conference announcing Trotz’s departure, MacLellan said part of the team’s reservations about committing to a long-term deal centered around the fact that it would have meant Trotz would be on the Capitals’ bench for a nine-year run, longevity that is almost unheard of for an NHL coach in recent decades.
“It’s a long time and a lot of money to be committing to a coach,” MacLellan said. “There are probably four guys that are making that money, so it’s the upper echelon. It’s the big-revenue teams.”
Trotz automatically received a two-year extension when he won the Stanley Cup and, while that included a modest raise, he still would have been making less than $2 million per year before bonuses.
Hiring Trotz, the fifth-winningest coach all time, will likely be part of the Islanders’ pitch for retaining pending free agent center John Tavares. Known for coaching strong defensive structure, Trotz could help a team that allowed the most goals in the league last season. The Islanders are also a possible trade destination for Capitals backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer.
Washington superstars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom expressed disappointment over Trotz’s resignation Wednesday night at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas, but both wished him well and praised his positive impact on them.
“Something you can’t take away from Barry is what he’s done to this team,” Backstrom said. “Him and the coaching staff has been doing a tremendous job to just get us together. He’s been schooling us good these four years, and we got a good finish out of it. . . . Hopefully there’s no hard feelings. He’s always going to be remembered in Washington as a champion, which is great, which he deserves.”
Said Ovechkin: “He’s been very good for me. We’ve been back and forth all the time, you know? He was hard on me. He give me very good advice because he have experience and that’s the whole thing. When the coach know who you are and know how to use you, you just feel great.”
Along with the franchise’s first Stanley Cup, Trotz guided the Capitals to back-to-back Presidents’ Trophy-winning seasons and three division titles. Washington advanced to the second round of the playoffs in all four seasons he was with the team. Although MacLellan said there’s no time frame to name Trotz’s replacement, Capitals associate coach Todd Reirden is the overwhelming favorite to get the job, and that Washington seemed to be grooming him for the role for the past year created tension in the relationship between Trotz and the organization.
Assistant coach Lane Lambert and director of goaltending Mitch Korn had followed Trotz to Washington from their previous stop in Nashville, and it’s likely they will join him in New York.
More on the Capitals: