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Trotz now the top coaching free agent, so where next for Stanley Cup-winning bench boss?

Barry Trotz’s resignation from the Washington Capitals puts him at the head of the coaching free agent class. So, who might be willing to pay up to bring the Stanley Cup-winning coach aboard?

In the wake of the Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup victory, it seemed set in stone that Barry Trotz would be back behind their bench next season. Everyone was saying all the right things, from GM Brian MacLellan to Trotz himself. And that’s what made Monday’s announcement that Trotz wouldn’t be returning so shocking.

The issues that led to Trotz’s departure seem clear enough, too. And it’s not that MacLellan or Capitals owner Ted Leonsis or really anyone in the Capitals organization holds any ill will. Matter of fact, this is nothing at all like the Mike Keenan situation with the New York Rangers back in 1994, the last time a Stanley Cup winning coach left his post immediately after winning the league title. Rather, it came down to matters of both term and money, which is to say Trotz wanted to be paid top dollar on a long-term deal and earn a salary that falls more in line with the $6-million salaries of Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock and Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville than the $2 million or so he was set to earn on an extension with the Capitals. Washington didn’t see that as the right move for the organization, however, and now Trotz is set to move on.

Now, though, it becomes a matter of Trotz finding a team willing to pay him top dollar and bring aboard the NHL’s most recent Stanley Cup-winning coach. It seems unlikely that will be the course of action for any team that has recently made its hire, such as the St. Louis Blues or Buffalo Sabres, nor does it seem like the low-budget teams — the Ottawa Senators, for instance — will spend more than a few million dollars to bring Trotz to town, even if they could be in need of or considering a change behind the bench.

These five teams, however, could be willing to pay up to hire Trotz, though landing with a couple of them might require some patience on Trotz’s end:

NEW YORK ISLANDERS
As the only team with a coaching vacancy as the off-season approaches, it makes perfect sense for Trotz to head to the Islanders this summer, and there’s the distinct possibility that if he makes the move to New York, he goes from coaching one superstar — Alex Ovechkin — to another in John Tavares, should he re-sign instead of testing the open market. But would it make much sense for Trotz to take the gig before knowing if Tavares is sticking around? Hard to say it would. If New York loses its star center, chances are there are going to be a couple of tough years while Mat Barzal continues to develop and the Islanders attempt to build what they can around the rest of their group.

Trotz is exactly the kind of coach the Islanders should be looking for, though. Given last season’s defensive shortcomings, New York needs an established bench boss to come in and give them some direction. During his time with the Nashville Predators, Trotz was seen as one of the top defensive-minded coaches in the league, and while Washington has had the benefit of Braden Holtby in goal throughout Trotz’s tenure, it’s worth noting that the Capitals boasted the second-best goals-against per game rate in the NHL over the past four seasons.

MINNESOTA WILD
Sometimes the easiest thing to do when a coach is looking for a new gig is play a game of connect the dots. And we don’t need seven degrees of separation to place a Trotz fan in the Minnesota front office. With the hiring of Paul Fenton as Wild GM almost exactly one month back, Trotz has an immediate connection to the franchise. Fenton, as you’ll recall, was assistant GM with the Predators dating back to the 2006-07 season and he had been part of the Nashville organization since 1998-99. Thus, his history with Trotz runs deep, and Fenton’s familiarity with the coach will be a plus.

The difficulty with Trotz ending up in Minnesota, though, is that the Wild would have to kick one of the most successful coaches in franchise history to the curb. In two seasons, Bruce Boudreau is already more than halfway to becoming the second-winningest coach in franchise history, he holds a .631 points percentage behind the Wild bench and led the team to its best single-season point total and its first set of back-to-back 100-point seasons. It’s not unheard of for GMs to want to put their own people behind the bench, however. And with Minnesota willing to pay up for a coach — Boudreau reportedly makes $2.625 million per season, per CapFriendly — it could be a fit if Minnesota seeks a surprising summer change.

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DETROIT RED WINGS
The Jeff Blashill experiment in Detroit hasn’t worked out as well as the Red Wings had hoped. Sure, Detroit lost Pavel Datsyuk and some of the Red Wings’ top talent began to enter into the twilight of their careers, but Blashill’s 63-75-26 record over the past two seasons is underwhelming and there’s been little sign that things are getting better. In fact, Detroit actually took a six-point step backwards last season, which isn’t exactly the direction the franchise wants to be moving in. And while there aren’t many coaches who could get this underachieving group back on track, Trotz may be one of them. After all, he had some success with arguably less-talented rosters during his time in Nashville.

The door seems wide open for Detroit to find Blashill’s successor, too. With the departure of Todd Nelson, who joined the Dallas Stars’ staff this summer, there’s no readymade in-house candidate to replace Blashill. Trotz, though, could be just what the doctor ordered for the Red Wings. But the biggest question might be one of money. CapFriendly lists Blashill’s salary at $800,000 per season, so bringing Trotz aboard at his reported top-tier asking price would mean a sizeable increase in spending behind the bench. If they were willing to attempt to keep Mike Babcock, though, the Red Wins might also be willing to spend to bring a comparably successful coach to town.

EDMONTON OILERS
The Oilers aren’t going to be firing Todd McLellan this summer. At least that’s not what the plan was, so we’ll approach this potential landing spot assuming that McLellan is in Edmonton to stay to start the season. The key there, though, is that it’s to start the campaign, and should the Oilers, who greatly disappointed last season, stumble out of the gates and find themselves slumping at the beginning of the season, McLellan’s hot seat could burn the coach and result in an early exit. And that could open the door for Trotz, who is sure to have offers this summer but could choose to instead take his time and find a fit he believes is right.

Sure is hard to argue against waiting for the chance to coach in Edmonton should the job open up, too. Again, while last season was disappointing, the Connor McDavid-led Oilers have that certain early era Sidney Crosby-led Pittsburgh Penguins feel to them. That’s to say that it feels as though success isn’t far off and McDavid seems primed to stamp his name on the Stanley Cup at some point in the not-too-distant future. There are no guarantees the job will open, but if he’s patient and Edmonton struggles, it could be the best landing spot for Trotz in terms of immediate and future success.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
It was reported around the tail end of the campaign that Joel Quenneville, whose Blackhawks missed the post-season for the first time in his decade-long tenure as coach, was potentially sitting on the chopping block. And while the three-time Stanley Cup winning bench boss was spared, that doesn’t mean his job is all that secure. Truth be told, it seems particularly unlikely that Quenneville will continue on as Chicago’s coach if the team doesn’t come flying out of the gates to start the 2018-19 campaign. Said owner Rocky Wirtz in an interview with Crain’s Chicago Business: “I think the team will be fine, but if things are off at the beginning of the year, that’s a different story.”

And that might be where Trotz comes in. He’s an established coach with an excellent track record fresh off of a Stanley Cup victory, and it’s not as if the Blackhawks have a replacement waiting in the wings for Quenneville should he be fired. When it comes to paying Trotz, too, the only organization other than Toronto that has shown a willingness to pay top-dollar for a coach is Chicago. Quenneville currently earns $6 million annually, according to CapFriendly, and if Trotz was seeking similar money, there’s nothing to suggest the Blackhawks wouldn’t pay up for a quality Quenneville replacement should it come to that.

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