With his surprising decision to step down as head coach of the Washington Capitals 11 days after winning the Stanley Cup, Barry Trotz joins a select group of coaches to walk away from their teams as champions.
To name just a few examples from the last 20 years, Tony La Russa retired as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals three days after winning the World Series in 2011. Dick Vermeil retired in February 2000 after winning the Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams, only to return to the NFL as coach of the Chiefs following a one-year hiatus. Phil Jackson similarly left the Chicago Bulls after winning his sixth NBA title in 1998 before agreeing to become head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers a year later. Of course, there’s been nothing to indicate that Trotz is retiring, or even looking for a break from coaching.
While it’s rare for coaches in any sport to step down or move on after winning a title, it’s most common in the NHL. In fact, Trotz is the seventh coach since the start of the NHL’s expansion era in 1967 not to return to his team after winning a Stanley Cup. The legendary Scotty Bowman did it twice. Here’s how the previous situations unfolded, and how the teams who lost their coaches fared in the ensuing years.
2002: Scotty Bowman, Detroit Red Wings
While the Red Wings celebrated their third Stanley Cup title in six years on the ice in Carolina, Bowman, 68, informed his players, owner Mike Ilitch and general manager Ken Holland that he was retiring as the winningest coach in NHL history. (You’ll be reading a lot more about Bowman below.)
What happened next: The Red Wings promoted Bowman’s top assistant, Dave Lewis, to head coach. Lewis guided Detroit to consecutive 48-win seasons and the Presidents’ Trophy in 2003-04, but the Red Wings failed to make it out of the second round of the playoffs in either year. Detroit allowed Lewis’s contract to expire after the 2005 lockout and replaced him with Mike Babcock.
1994: Mike Keenan, New York Rangers
One month after winning the Stanley Cup in his only season with the Rangers, Keenan abruptly quit when he failed to receive his bonus on time. “The New York Rangers did not fulfill their contractual obligations, and as a result of that breach, I’m no longer employed by the New York Rangers,” Keenan told reporters. After meeting with the Red Wings, Keenan signed a five-year deal to become the head coach and general manager of the St. Louis Blues. The Rangers responded by filing suit in federal court in New York to declare Keenan’s contract with the Blues invalid. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman permitted Keenan to remain with St. Louis, but fined the Blues $250,000 and suspended Keenan for 60 days in one of the more bizarre coaching contract disputes in league history.
What happened next: The Rangers promoted Colin Campbell, an assistant under Keenan, to head coach. Campbell led the Rangers to three consecutive playoff appearances, including a trip to the conference finals in 1997, but he was fired 58 games into the 1997-98 season.
1991: Bob Johnson, Pittsburgh Penguins
Three months after leading the Penguins to their first Stanley Cup title, Johnson, 60, was diagnosed with brain cancer.
What happened next: Pittsburgh named its player personnel chief, Scotty Bowman, as Johnson’s interim replacement. Johnson died in November and Bowman guided the Penguins to a second consecutive championship.
1979: Scotty Bowman, Montreal Canadiens
Two weeks after leading the Canadiens to their fifth Stanley Cup title in eight seasons, the 45-year-old Bowman signed a multiyear contract to become the Buffalo Sabres’ general manager. Bowman had clashed with Canadiens executive vice president Irving Grundman during his time in Montreal and was looking for a new challenge. “I respect Grundman as a businessman, but not as a hockey man,” Bowman told reporters. “I had no peace of mind here, nor did my family. … It was hard to leave my home after being so successful, but I am happy to be with the Buffalo people. They have credibility and have been a strong club since they came into the league.”
What happened next: Grundman hired Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion to replace Bowman, who would also coach in Buffalo. Geoffrion, who previously coached the New York Rangers and Atlanta Flames, resigned 30 games into the 1979-80 season following a stretch in which the Canadiens won only one of six games. “I feel it is necessary in the best interests of the club and my family that I don’t coach the Canadiens any longer,” Geoffrion said. Assistant Claude Ruel, who previously coached the Canadiens from 1968-71, was promoted to head coach and led Montreal to a first-place finish in the Norris Division. The Canadiens were eliminated by Minnesota in the second round of the playoffs.
1971: Al MacNeil, Montreal Canadiens
MacNeil, who was promoted to replace Claude Ruel after Ruel resigned 23 games into the 1970-71 season, resigned shortly after leading Montreal to the Stanley Cup. “I enjoyed coaching the Canadiens, but I thought there was a little extra pressure in areas that involved me, and I just didn’t think that continuing as a coach with Montreal would be a good future,” said MacNeil, who was publicly criticized by his players.
What happened next: Scotty Bowman was hired to replace MacNeil, who was appointed coach and general manager of the AHL’s Nova Scotia Voyageurs.
1970: Harry Sinden, Boston Bruins
Sinden, 37, quit to become the assistant director of sales engineering for Stirling Homex Corporation in New York four days after leading the Bruins to a title. “What else could I do in hockey?” he asked reporters at a news conference. Sinden, who took the Bruins from last place to champions in his four years with Boston, explained that he could earn twice his coaching salary in his new job.
What happened next: The Bruins tapped assistant general manager Tom Johnson to replace Sinden. The former Canadiens defenseman led Boston to 57 wins in his first season and another Stanley Cup title in his second year. He was fired midway through his third season. Sinden later revealed that Bruins president Weston Adams had turned down his request for a raise during the 1970 season. Stirling Homex went bankrupt in 1972, and after Sinden coached Team Canada to a win over the Soviet Union in the 1972 Summit Series, the Bruins hired him back as general manager to replace Milt Schmidt, the Capitals’ first GM.
1968: Toe Blake, Montreal Canadiens
After winning his eighth Stanley Cup in 13 seasons as coach of the Canadiens, the 55-year-old Blake, citing the pressure of the job, called it a career. “The tension is just too much, it gets tougher every year,” Blake said. “A lot of things entered into my decision. One of them is the fact that I’ll be 56 years [old] next August. I think some of the players will be better off with a new coach, especially some of the veterans I’ve coached for 13 years. I’ve been with them so long that maybe a chance will benefit them.”
What happened next: The Canadiens replaced Blake with 29-year-old Claude Ruel, who led Montreal to another Stanley Cup title in his first year at the helm.
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