It seems amiss to say someone in the world of sports deserves anything. After all, if it were all about who deserves it the most, would we even play the games? But the thing is, after a while, there are players, coaches and general mangers who we root for and think, “Well, it sure would be nice to see them win something.”
Picture Ray Bourque. Or Lanny McDonald. Or even Marian Hossa. They were all players who, year after year, were denied the sports’ top prize. Bourque won his Stanley Cup in the final year of his career. The same goes for McDonald. And it took Hossa three straight Cup finals with three different teams to finally get handed the trophy.
Now picture Barry Trotz, the coach who did something with nothing more often than arguably any other coach in the history of the league, yet the one who has nothing save a World Championship gold medal to his name. There’s a man who deserves at least the chance to have his team play for a Stanley Cup.
For 15 seasons behind the Predators bench, Trotz worked like a mad scientist using line combinations and smothering neutral zone tactics to become one of the most revered coaches in the league. He had rosters that were led in goal scoring by players like Sergei Krivokrasov, Denis Arkhipov and J.P. Dumont. He helped groom Shea Weber and Ryan Suter into stars. Before Martin Erat was the bad end of a historically awful trade, he was a leading scorer for Trotz’s Predators. And these were teams, you might recall, that made the post-season with some regularity in one of the hardest divisions in hockey, the Central.
But never – not once – has Trotz been really, truly recognized for his ability. He has no Jack Adams Awards. He has been nominated twice, but never taken home the trophy. He doesn’t have a single division title. Nor does he have a conference championship. And he certainly doesn’t have a Stanley Cup.
What Trotz does have, however, is more wins than all but 12 coaches in the history of the NHL. He also has more games behind the bench than all but 10. Those who look at his .426 winning percentage and say, “he was bound to climb the wins list sometime,” don’t realize that while he remained the coach of the Nashville Predators from expansion in 1998-99 until his firing following the 2013-14 season, the other expansion franchises of that era – Minnesota, Columbus and Atlanta/Winnipeg – have gone through a grand total of 17 coaches. He did that because he was tasked with taking a team almost devoid of any superstars and making them competitive.
Minnesota had the fan base. Columbus had Rick Nash. And Atlanta had Kovalchuk and Heatley, followed by Kovalchuk and Hossa. Nashville, well, they had Barry Trotz.
Now that he’s gone from Nashville and over in Washington, he finally has some star talent. He finally has the ability to score at will with his stifling defensive system that works. And he’s finally got the chance to advance to his first ever Conference Final.
But the reason Trotz deserves to at least compete for the Stanley Cup this season is because if he doesn’t, who knows when he’ll ever get the chance again or when he’ll ever get the recognition he deserves.
Of the 12 coaches ahead of him on the all-time coaching victories list, every single coach has won at least one major award, be it the Stanley Cup, Jack Adams or, at the very least, a Conference championship. Of the coaches ahead of him that don’t have a Stanley Cup – Jacques Martin, Bryan Murray, Ron Wilson, Lindy Ruff and Pat Quinn – only one, Wilson, doesn’t have a Jack Adams.
And what’s worrisome is that if the Capitals don’t make it deep this season, don’t go at least to the finals, when will Trotz ever get his nod as coach of the year? As it stands, the Jack Adams tends to go to coaches who rescue teams from the depths of the standings, which is exactly why Trotz’ replacement in Nashville, Peter Laviolette, stands a great shot at taking home the award this season.
Because Washington challenged so heartily in the Metropolitan Division this season, there’s little chance, save a 55-win season, Trotz gets a nomination for the Jack Adams. Unfortunately for Trotz, his teams were bad enough with mediocre rosters to not be considered for coach of the year in the years he overachieved, of which there were many. And in the seasons that better rosters that had underachieved previously finally clicked, Trotz was left out of the running for Jack Adams because his teams weren’t quite successful enough.
If Trotz wants to pad his resume, it might be now or never. Otherwise, one of the most-heralded yet least-rewarded coaches will need to wait even longer to finally get his due.