While Still Surprising, Barry Trotz Moving on Is Good For The Caps

Posted June 19, 2018

(Caps Outsider)

Monday’s news of Barry Trotz resigning as Washington’s head coach was surprising considering the team had just won the Stanley Cup. However, as the Washington Post reported, Trotz was almost fired in November. To get a full scope of this, we have to go back to the day Trotz was announced as the head coach.

Trotz was named coach the same day as Brian MacLellan was named General Manager. Meaning, Trotz’s hiring was not done by MacLellan but rather by owner Ted Leonsis and president of hockey operations Dick Patrick. I am not saying the two did not get along, but Trotz was not MacLellan’s choice.

I thought Trotz was a great hire, and exactly what the Caps needed. That was four years ago. Now having seen him coach, rather than just hear reports or see on-ice results, there are a few tendencies I could not look past. Trotz is coaching the game like it is the early 2000s and he does not trust young players.

In 2014, the L.A. Kings won the Stanley Cup for a second time, and the game of hockey was different. From then on, there was no longer the rough and tough NHL. The game transformed into a younger, faster game. Some teams just got left behind.

Trotz was one of those people. In 2016, the Caps lost to the Penguins as Nate Schmidt sat in the press box instead of Brooks Orpik or Taylor Chorney. One year later, they suffered another second round exit to the Penguins as Orpik and Alzner once again played over Schmidt. When Schmidt did play, instead of Alzner or Orpik, Brett Connolly was taken out of the lineup and the Caps went to 11 forwards seven defensemen lineup, something they had not done all season until the playoffs.

If Trotz plays Schmidt do the Caps beat the Penguins? Who knows. However, those two seasons exposed a tendency in Trotz that he does not trust his young players. He routinely benched them after making a small mistake. While it did work, he often scratched a young player for a “reset” but would not do the same this past season when Oshie went scoreless for a long stretch. If he can trust a veteran to play his way out of a slump, why not a younger player too?

This season, Trotz routinely played “gritty, grizzled veterans” over young players. Christian Djoos was a healthy scratch to start the year because Trotz thought he was “too small.” Despite scoring in his NHL debut, Nathan Walker was scratched in favor of Alex Chiasson and Devante Smith-Pelly and eventually put on waivers and claimed by Edmonton.  Chandler Stephenson was beaten out of camp by guys like Chiasson and Smith-Pelly, but when called back up to the NHL, he showed he belonged. Jakub Vrana and Andre Burakovsky were both routinely scratched and given the good ole “reset” button.

When it came to the playoffs, Djoos was scratched for the first two games, while Vrana and Burakovsky both saw time as healthy scratches as well.  This year, when Tom Wilson was suspended for three games, Trotz put Smith-Pelly on the fist line and there was no success. In fact, it was a train wreck. What did Trotz do to fix it? Nothing. Instead, he doubled-down and let the trio of Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov and Smith-Pelly play another half a game, again with zero results, before changing combinations in game. Do we really need to dissect incident by incident of his horrendous lineup choices?

It seems like MacLellan saw this too.

While the news came as a shock, think back to February, or November, or even last summer after another second round exit. What were you thinking then? You were probably thinking, it’s time to move on. Over the last two months, only a 24-game span, has your perception of Trotz, and his tendencies really changed? Not really, we were just blindsided by the result.