Less than two weeks after the Washington Capitals won the first Stanley Cup in the franchise's history, Barry Trotz has resigned from his role as head coach. This marks just the fifth time in the past 40 years that a coach did not return to his team the season after winning the National Hockey League's championship.
Though the NHL often churns through head coaches at a dizzying rate - the league has seen 34 in-season changes since the start of the 2009-10 season - it is extremely rare for the title-winning coach to break from his team. The last time a team did not retain its head coach after winning a championship was 2002, when the legendary Scotty Bowman retired after winning the Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings. Bowman previously left the Montreal Canadiens in 1979 to become coach and general manager of the Buffalo Sabres. In 1994, Mike Keenan won the Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers and then announced a month later he was a free agent because of a breach in contract by the Rangers. Bob Johnson of the Pittsburgh Penguins died of brain cancer in 1991 after winning the title.
The resignation by Trotz ends a strange year-long saga between the Capitals and their coach. Trotz, the NHL's fifth-winningest coach all time, didn't receive a contract extension before the start of the 2017-18 season and entered the last of a four-year deal as a lame duck. Lacking security despite compiling the league's best regular-season record each of the two previous seasons, he spent the past year in limbo and was nearly fired twice during the season.
Winning the Stanley Cup, however, triggered a clause in Trotz's contract that gave him an automatic two-year extension, Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan said. The extension included a modest raise on what NHL salary-tracking database CapFriendly.com lists as a $1.5 million annual salary. Incentives in the contract pushed that figure over $2 million due to the playoff success this past season. That still left Trotz far from the ranks of the league's highest-paid coaches, and compared to other Stanley Cup-winning coaches, Trotz would have been undercompensated. Trotz did not immediately return phone messages seeking comment.
"His representative wants to take advantage of Barry's experience and Stanley Cup win and was trying to negotiate a deal that compensates him as one of the better coaches in the league - a top-four or five coach - so he's looking for that type of contract," MacLellan said Monday.
MacLellan said he was hopeful the two could agree on a "shorter-term deal," but he said that a five-year term was a "sticking point" because that would have kept Trotz with the team for nine seasons and "there are not many coaches who have that lasting ability," MacLellan said.
Montreal Canadiens Coach Claude Julien signed a five-year, $25 million contract in the middle of last season - and Trotz was believed to have been asking for a similar deal, which would've meant more than doubling his salary. Toronto's Mike Babcock is the highest-paid coach, with a $6.25 million annual salary. Chicago's Joel Quenneville, who has won three championships, signed a reported three-year, $18 million extension in 2016. All three men have won at least one Stanley Cup, and all three spent at least nine seasons with a team during their coaching careers. While coaching salaries have ballooned thanks to those deals, Trotz and his agent negotiated his first arrangement with the Capitals four years ago under a much different payscale.
After Trotz won the Stanley Cup earlier this month, he expressed interest in returning and MacLellan said that if Trotz wanted to be back, he would be back. Ultimately, the financial differences led to his resignation. MacLellan said Trotz "does, probably, in some people's minds" deserve to be paid in the neighborhood of those other Stanley Cup-winning coaches, but he added that doesn't think "all teams pay that type of money and years. Certain teams are open to it, and the rest of the league isn't."
"It's a long time and a lot of money to be committing to a coach," MacLellan continued. "There are probably four guys that are making that money, so it's the upper echelon. It's the big-revenue teams."
Internal friction may have also played a role in Trotz's decision. The Capitals made the unusual move of having two members of Trotz's coaching staff - associate head coach Todd Reirden and assistant Blaine Forsythe - under contract for 2018-19. Many in the sport interpreted the move as essentially securing Reirden as an in-house replacement for Trotz, should the team need to make a change during or after the season. Had Washington not advanced past the second round of the playoffs for a fourth straight year, Trotz would not have been retained, according to a person familiar with the team's thinking.
Just days after Washington won its championship, Trotz admitted he was aware a midseason firing was possible.
"I think with my situation, I would say that all year you felt like that," Trotz said on June 9. "But I got over that. I probably made jokes about it, but I was past that. I knew whatever happens happens."
The absence of an extension while the two assistants were locked in for the following season created awkwardness within the staff. When Trotz was asked if he would want to keep his coaching staff intact should he return as head coach, he cryptically said he and MacLellan had "some issues to work through." Adding to the tension was an extension given to MacLellan in March and the optics of Trotz not receiving one at the same time, even as Washington was poised for a fourth straight postseason berth.
"After careful consideration and consultation with my family, I am officially announcing my resignation as head coach of the Washington Capitals," Trotz said in a statement through his agent. "When I came to Washington four years ago we had one goal in mind and that was to bring the Stanley Cup to the nation's capital. We had an incredible run this season culminating with our players and staff achieving our goal and sharing the excitement with our fans. I would like to thank [Capitals owner Ted] Leonsis, Dick Patrick and Brian MacLellan for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this great organization. I would also like to thank our players and staff who worked tirelessly every day to achieve our success."
After the Capitals won their first-round playoff series against the Blue Jackets, Trotz was shown on camera shaking hands with Columbus Coach John Tortorella, and Sportsnet reporter Elliotte Friedman, reading Trotz's lips, suggested that Trotz told Tortorella, "I'm gone. I'm not coming back." Trotz later denied that.
Trotz is believed to be interested in coaching next season, and the only current vacancy is with the New York Islanders, a divisional opponent. Because the Capitals accepted Trotz's resignation, he is in no way restricted from coaching next season. During Trotz's four years with the Capitals, he guided Washington to two Presidents' Trophies as the league's best regular-season team, along with three Metropolitan Division titles and, finally, a Stanley Cup.
"I think he was pondering taking a year off in my mind," MacLellan said. "I wasn't positive on it, but I think he ended up enjoying the final part of the season obviously and probably changed his mind that way."
Assistant coach Lane Lambert had followed Trotz from Nashville, as did director of goaltending Mitch Korn, and it's doubtful either of them will return. MacLellan said he doesn't he feel pressure to immediately name Trotz's replacement, even as he's meeting with the representation for the team's pending unrestricted free agents at the NHL draft this week. Reirden is the overwhelming favorite to become Washington's next head coach, but he will have to go through a formal interview process.
"I think we've been grooming him to be a head coach, whether for us or for someone else," MacLellan said. "We'll see how the talk goes with him and then we'll make a decision based on that. If it goes well, we'll pursue Todd. And if it doesn't, we'll open [the search] up a little bit."
The departure of Trotz dampens the buoyant and wildly festive feelings that swept through Washington following the city's first championship since the Washington Redskins won the Super Bowl in 1992. Players circulated the Stanley Cup throughout the city in a booze-soaked celebration that lasted through last week's parade down Constitution Avenue. On Monday, the realities of the sport finally resumed.
"Sports is a business," MacLellan said. "You want it to to work out. You want it to be a game. You want it to be all fun. But 10 days after you win a Cup, we have to come here and do this. It's not fun."
WASHINGTON - A backlash over the Trump administration's decision to separate children from their parents at the southern border has left Republican candidates scrambling to distance themselves from a policy the president sees as central to accomplishing his political goals.
A shift in the dynamics of immigration politics, which Trump has long used to his advantage and some Democrats have seen as a liability, was evident Monday as the face of the debate moved from violent central American street gang members to young and bewildered children isolated by federal agents behind chain-link fences.
The reaction was a reminder that, for all the effort Trump is putting into maintaining the loyalty of his base, the voters who elected him are not the same ones many vulnerable Republicans will need to win over this fall.
In many cases, Republican fates will depend on attracting more moderate voters. The key group, because of the location of the most contested House races, will be suburban women voters.
On Monday, as Democrats in red states united with their liberal colleagues in opposition to the president's policy, Republicans sought to demonstrate their sympathies with the migrant border families.
"Let me be clear - I do not favor separating families," Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican Senate candidate, said in a statement Monday.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, R, who is running for reelection in a state dominated by Democrats, announced Monday that he would reverse his decision to send his state's National Guard troops to the southern border. He cited the "cruel and inhumane" actions of the Trump administration.
Rep. Kevin Yoder, a potentially vulnerable Kansas Republican who chairs the House Homeland Security subcommittee on appropriations, on Monday sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking him to end the family separations, which Sessions had announced in speeches last month.
"As the son of a social worker, I know the human trauma that comes with children being separated from their parents," he said in a statement.
Later Monday, conservative Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas signaled that he would introduce a measure that he said would lessen the number of divided families. Rep. Steve Stivers of Ohio, head of the Republican congressional campaign effort, also called on the administration to halt its policy.
As surprising as the swift Republican reactions - at a time when support for each Trump initiative is key to political survival - was the concurrent Democratic unity. Several Democrats broke with the party to support funding Trump's border wall in the spring, and earlier a handful opposed a party move to deny funding for the government to push new legal protections for "dreamers," undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children.
But on Monday, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has been running an ad in the state boasting of his vote to fund Trump's border wall, became the last to join a Democratic proposal to require families to be kept together. In a statement, he cast the issue as a moral one, saying he had come to his position "as a father, grandfather and Christian."
A Quinnipiac poll released Monday found that American voters oppose the policy of separating children from parents by more than 3 to 1, with opposition from 91 percent of Democrats, 68 percent of independents and 35 percent of Republicans. The same poll showed 58 percent of American voters oppose building a southern border wall - which Trump has demanded as part of any immigration measure - and 79 percent support a path to citizenship for dreamers.
For years, the immigration issue has functioned as a base mobilizing tool for both parties, as Democrats sought to motivate liberals and Hispanics, and Republicans tried to boost the working-class white vote.
But typically Republicans have given the issue more weight. In the 2016 presidential election, as well, Trump's immigration focus allowed him to peel off white Democratic voters.
Polls this year show that Democratic voters are more enthusiastic about the midterm elections, and Democratic leaders believe Trump's immigration moves are an effort to increase Republican enthusiasm.
"This is red meat for his base," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Monday.
In the Quinnipiac poll, 70 percent of women - and 65 percent of white women, a more conservative cohort - opposed separating children from their migrant parents.
"They are tired of being forced into awkward conversations with their kids," Rep. Mark Pocan, Wis., a member of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee leadership, said between stops at detention centers in Texas. "When you talk about separating kids from their parents, that's not going to break his way."
The issue also creates problems for Republicans who represent large Hispanic constuencies, like Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., and Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, all of whom face tough reelections and have said they want to change the policy.
"There are two kinds of districts where this issue could flip additional seats: districts with enough Hispanics that a big increase in Hispanic turnout can flip the math and elect a Democrat, and the kind of high-education, moderate Republican seats that [Hillary] Clinton won and were already tough holds," said Republican pollster Chris Wilson. "Anything that turns off suburban Republicans in those districts is a risky issue to face."
In Nevada, Republican Sen. Dean Heller's rival, Jacky Rosen, aired a Spanish language television ad during the World Cup last weekend that showed a soccer referee giving a red card to Trump for his dirty game - "el juego sucio" - of separating mothers from children.
Heller has not commented publicly on child separation since telling the Reno Gazette Journal on June 1 that the administration had created a "terrible policy." Some Republicans doubt that there are many voters left in the state who can be swayed.
"If you are extremely motivated by this issue you are voting anyway," said one Nevada Republican consultant. "There is just no persuadable voters on this issue."
But Democrats plan to hammer Heller's disagreement with Trump again this weekend, when the president is scheduled to travel to Las Vegas for a fundraiser for his campaign.
"Could you think of a worse time for Donald Trump to go to Nevada?" asked Lauren Passalacqua, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
The head of the Democratic effort, Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, traveled to the Texas border last weekend to cast the debate as a moral failure for Trump and the Republican Party.
"I really think this is beyond politics," Van Hollen said in an interview. Voters in both parties are "Americans first," he said. "They are moms and dads and they find it despicable that kids are being separated from parents as a deliberate policy choice."
Van Hollen was part of a group of Democratic lawmakers who toured detention facilities in the Rio Grande Valley over the weekend and provided detailed descriptions of their findings. They reconstructed scenes of confusion and distress, including a woman who expressed fear that she would never see her child again.
Democrats in what are expected to be tough races were calling attention to Trump's political strategy, citing comments by White House officials that he is using the issue to strengthen his position in the larger immigration talks.
"The administration can & must change this cruel and harmful policy," Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., tweeted over the weekend.
Another threatened Democrat campaigning in a state Trump won, Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, tweeted that "those trying to enter our country illegally should be held accountable and we should fix our broken immigration system, but I don't support the Admin.'s new policy that separates children from their families."
Some Republicans say they still believe the national focus on immigration will help the party in November, especially in states Trump won in 2016. "People want common sense immigration reform. People don't want open borders," said Jim McLaughlin, a pollster working for an independent group supporting Missouri Republican Josh Hawley, who is running against incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill, D.
Yet in a statement to The Washington Post, Hawley did not take a clear position on the Trump policy. Rather he blamed McCaskill for the current state of immigration.
"Nobody wants to see children and parents separated, just like no one should want to see illegal drugs and gangs pouring across our border," he said. "But none of that will change until McCaskill and the D.C. crowd take some responsibility and build the wall and secure the border."
Sullivan reported from McAllen, Texas.