When Barry Trotz ends up signing his big-money, long-term deal, possibly with the New York Islanders, the first thing he should probably do is take Mike Babcock out for an obscenely expensive steak dinner. Because there is a direct correlation between the trail Babcock blazed and Trotz making somewhere in the $4 million to $5 million range instead of being stuck at about $2 million.
When Babcock signed his eight-year, $50-million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs three summers ago, it was supposed to be the outlier and future coaches would not be able to get away with using his $6.25 million-per-season salary as a comparable. History has proved otherwise and it should come as no surprise. Less than eight months after the Babcock contract, Joel Quenneville re-upped with the Chicago Blackhawks for $6 million a year and when Claude Julien took over the Montreal Canadien mid-season two years ago, he signed a five-year deal at $5 million a season.
And now it’s Trotz’s turn to be paid. Back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies and a Stanley Cup put him right in line with Babcock and Julien in terms of accomplishments. When Trotz signed his contract four years ago, the prospect of taking on two more years at between $1.8 million and $2 million if he won the Stanley Cup probably looked pretty good. But that all changed when Babcock signed his deal with Toronto. Indeed, the high tide raised all ships.
So there was no way Trotz was going to come back to coach the Capitals for that kind of money after winning the Stanley Cup, not after David Quinn got a five-year deal worth $2.5 million a year despite not coaching a single game in the NHL. And if the Nashville Predators realize their potential and win the Stanley Cup next season, Peter Laviolette, who is entering the last year of his contract at $2 million, will be the next to cash in. It will be interesting to see how that one gets handled, whether Predators GM David Poile tries to get a long-term deal done during the season, or whether Laviolette bets on himself and his team and waits for the season to play out.
There was clearly a deal to be done here, but it didn’t happen. The Capitals could have held Trotz to the two-year extension to which he agreed and if they really wanted to have him back as coach, they could have renegotiated a new deal with him that would pay him closer to market value. Unlike players, coaches and GMs can have their deals ripped up and renegotiated at any time. It doesn’t appear that there was much traction for the Capitals to do that and they’ve essentially allowed him to pursue free agency. They probably realize that he would have been unhappy had he been forced to work under the extension clause and they obviously weren’t willing to give him a Babcock-Quenneville-Julien-type contract. Otherwise, they’d be announcing that he is coming back next season on a long-term deal.
So the Capitals will now likely promote assistant coach Todd Reirden, something that had been in the tea leaves for a while, and pay him equal to or maybe less than they were paying Trotz. It’s a good financial deal for the Capitals. It remains to be seen whether it will be a good or bad decision for the organization. After the final ended, Trotz talked about the clarity he had gained after the Capitals were ousted from the playoffs in 2017. He carried that through this season and you’d have to think that perhaps him not getting an extension last summer had something to do with it. After the Capitals beat the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the playoffs, he appeared to tell Columbus coach John Tortorella that he was finished after this season. And explaining why this Capitals team was able to win where other more talented ones had failed, he said, “I just think our guys got pissed off.” That likely extended to him.
In any event, coaches are being paid. And they should. If a second-line forward or a second-pairing defenseman can make $5 million a year in a cap system, what’s an elite coach worth in a structure where there is no restrictions on salaries? And coaches, who have historically been loathe to discuss what they make, should probably be now tripping over each other to have all their salaries made public. After all, this all started three years ago when a one-Stanley Cup coach signed in Toronto for $6.25 million a season.
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