Pros & Cons of Flyers Hiring Barry Trotz as Next Head Coach

Earlier today, Barry Trotz was relieved of his duties as head coach of the New York Islanders one season after taking the team to their second consecutive Eastern Conference Final. He coached the Islanders for four seasons and took them past the first round in his first three. Things fell off the rails in his fourth season, but not because of any underlying fault of his.

Related: Rick Tocchet Is a Perfect Fit for Flyers’ Coaching Vacancy

With the Philadelphia Flyers announcing last week that Mike Yeo will not return as head coach next season, the team now has options to replace him, from Rick Tocchet, Jim Montgomery, John Tortorella, and more. Here are some positives and negatives to the Flyers hiring Trotz if he is willing.

Trotz’s Success & Defensive System

Trotz’s NHL head coaching career started with the Nashville Predators. He was the organization’s first coach in their inaugural season in 1998-99. He was behind the bench for 15 seasons and learned the tricks of the trade along the way. His team missed the playoffs in their first five seasons but made the postseason for seven of the next eight seasons, including two second-round appearances.

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Once he left the Predators, he was behind the bench of the Washington Capitals for four seasons. They not only qualified for the playoffs in all four, but they also won a round in each of his first three seasons, and Trotz’s tenure in Washington culminated with a Stanley Cup.

Barry Trotz
Barry Trotz (Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)

Once Trotz was hired by the Islanders, the team took on an entirely new identity as a hard-to-play against, defensive team. He came aboard for the 2018-19 season, right after the Islanders finished last in the NHL with a 3.57 goals-against per game average (GA/GP). The next closest team was the Ottawa Senators, with 3.46 GA/GP. Trotz immediately tightened things up, and his system worked like a charm. The Islanders followed up a disastrous 2017-18 season defensively by becoming the best team in the NHL in their own end in 2018-19. They finished with the least number of goals against in Trotz’s first season behind the bench.

In a four-season span with Trotz, the Islanders had the second-fewest GA/GP with 2.56, trailing only the Boston Bruins with 2.52. The Islanders went 152-102-34 in the regular season, won six playoff series, and had a 28-21 playoff record.

Trotz’s track record speaks for itself, and he is more than capable of turning any mediocre team into a playoff contender. The Flyers’ defense needs a ton of work and a system in place after finishing 27th in the NHL in GA/GP in 2021-22, despite all three of their goaltenders sporting a .900 save percentage (SV%) or higher. Trotz turned an Islanders team that had a 3.57 GA/GP into one that allowed a 2.33 GA/GP the following season. He can surely do that for the Flyers, who finished with 2.59 GA/GP this season.

Carter Hart is a good goaltender that many teams don’t get lucky enough to develop. Yes, he had a blunder in 2020-21, but the team didn’t do him any favors in their own end. This season wasn’t so different, but Hart elevated his play to try and keep the Flyers in games. Adding Trotz would do wonders for him with his focus on defensive positioning to cut down high-danger chances and good scoring chances.

Carter Hart Philadelphia Flyers
Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Add Trotz’s system to some Flyers who are already more defensive-minded, like former Selke Trophy-winner Sean Couturier, and they will thrive. Plus, it is always a positive to ingrain good habits in players early in their career, and the Flyers have a lot of young talent that they would like to keep around for a while.

Suppressing the Offensive Potential of Certain Players

The downside of Trotz’s coaching style is also his pure focus on defense. Shutting teams down and playing 2-1 games all the time works, but there is also some puck luck and bounces that could favor the opposition more often than not. No system can shut down every goal. With a defense-first mindset, any team coached by Trotz isn’t expected to score many goals, so if the Flyers were to allow four or five goals in a game, it is unlikely they will win. Other teams don’t have the same problem.

Trotz has had a history of seeing offensively gifted players have their freedom and creativity suppressed, which lowers their offensive impact. Here are a few examples from the past two teams Trotz coached. In his third season in Washington, he tried to get Alex Ovechkin to buy into his system more. It resulted in one of the worst offensive seasons of Ovechkin’s career. After scoring 50-plus goals in three consecutive seasons, he finished the 2016-17 season with just 33 goals in 82 games. Since Trotz left for the Islanders, Ovechkin has hit 50 goals twice, 48 goals in 68 games in 2019-20, and 24 goals in 45 games in an even shorter shortened season.

Looking at Trotz’s most recent team, Mathew Barzal hasn’t been the same offensive force that he was when he broke into the NHL in 2017-18 and won the Calder Trophy. He finished that season with 22 goals and 85 points in 82 games. Trotz took over as head coach the following season, and since then, Barzal has failed to reach the 20-goal mark or top 62 points in a season. He is one of the fastest and most talented players in the NHL but has been playing in a system that doesn’t allow him to play the game how he knows he can, and he is becoming an afterthought when people think of stars in the league.

Mat Barzal New York Islanders
Mat Barzal, New York Islanders (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Other young Islanders that didn’t have a chance to showcase their talents offensively are Oliver Wahlstrom and Anthony Beauvillier. Wahlstrom was expected to take the next step in his development after a solid first NHL season but scored just one more goal and three more points in 29 more games. He was also held out of the top-six for most of the season and was forced to play a different role than what he can provide, and that’s offense.

Beauvillier promised to be a goal-scorer, but he too took a step back, scoring the fewest goals in a season since his rookie year. The 2019-20 playoff run that saw him score nine goals in 22 games gave everyone a hint at just what goal-scoring ability he possesses. Watch for all three players to either break out offensively or take a step in the right direction next season with a coach that’s more encouraging of their skills in the offensive zone.

This may not bode well for the Flyers, but then again, they don’t have any point-per-game players who will have a huge drop-off. Who I’m most worried about if Trotz gets behind the Flyers’ bench is Joel Farabee and other forwards with little NHL experience who have offensive potential. Players like Bobby Brink and Noah Cates could be negatively impacted, but then players like Owen Tippett and Morgan Frost, who have struggled to find their way in the NHL in their young careers, could do well with a different style of play to establish their impact all over the ice.

Chuck Fletcher should have Trotz high up on the list of coaches he’s looking into, and from a Flyers’ perspective, I would sacrifice some of their offensive potential for an all-around great defensive team. Once Trotz has finished his time in Philadelphia, the players will remember the lessons he taught on how to play a better two-way game.

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