Barry Trotz May Be Final Piece of the Puzzle for Maple Leafs

For years now, the Toronto Maple Leafs have entered seasons with sky-high expectations, only to come up short time and time again in the playoffs. While any playoff loss stings, what makes things so much more frustrating for this organization is that it has continually come in the opening round. As is well known by this point, they have failed to make it past the first round since 2004.

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To general manager Kyle Dubas’ credit, he has tried to make the necessary changes in order to elevate his team’s play in the postseason. Not only has he added pieces both up front and on the blue line in recent years, but he even attempted to help his players not get pushed around by bringing in players such as Wayne Simmonds and Kyle Clifford, though to no avail.

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Due to the lack of success, Dubas doesn’t appear to have much time left in his Leafs’ tenure if things remain status quo. There is little reason to believe that this current team will have a different fate in the playoffs, given the rather large sample size with this group in recent years. A big change may be what needs to happen, and luckily for the Leafs’ general manager, it may not be an overly difficult one to make.

Trotz Interested in Coaching Original Six Team

Regarded as perhaps the best coach in hockey today, many were surprised to see that the New York Islanders chose to relieve Barry Trotz of his duties after the 2021-22 season concluded. By all accounts, it was a frustrating campaign for the Isles, though there were several outside factors that played into their struggles.

Nevertheless, Trotz was let go, and he reportedly had a number of suitors this summer. Despite that, he remains without a job, as it is believed he was only interested in returning if a team with a true chance of winning came calling. Interestingly enough, in a recent appearance on The Cam & Strick Podcast, Trotz seemed to suggest he has interest in coaching an Original Six team, something he has never done before.

Of the Original Six teams, the only one who could be in the market for a coach in the near future happens to be the Maple Leafs. While it is too soon for Dubas to swap Trotz for current head coach Sheldon Keefe, he may not be as far away from doing so as some would think.

As mentioned, Dubas may not have a lot of time left himself. He does not have a contract extension in place and will more than likely not be given one if the Leafs don’t go on a run in the playoffs. A deep run doesn’t seem all that likely under Keefe, who has had three cracks at it already and, early in this season, has seemingly fallen into bad graces with some of his star players.

Trotz’s Defensive Schemes Would Work Wonders for the Leafs

If there is any coach who will be able to get the Leafs to tighten things up defensively not only in the regular season but the playoffs as well, it’s Trotz. This is a coach that, despite having rather underwhelming rosters on paper more often than not, has gone on some very deep runs.

In fact, when he was finally given an extremely talented roster in the Washington Capitals, he led Alex Ovechkin and company to their first-ever Stanley Cup. Prior to that championship, the Capitals were in a very similar spot to where the Leafs find themselves currently, in that they had all the talent in the world but failed to do anything with it in the postseason.

Barry Trotz
New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz behind the bench in Game 4. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Much of that Capitals Cup win had to do with players buying into a team-first concept. Before Trotz’s arrival, Ovechkin was regarded as the game’s best goal scorer but was viewed as a player who wouldn’t win due to his flat-out laziness in the defensive zone. That completely changed under Trotz, to the point that he was seen multiple times laying out on the ice in an effort to block shots. That type of effort is something this Leafs team has, at times, lacked from some of their top stars, particularly in the postseason.

Though that Cup-winning team in Washington marked Trotz’s first and only championship at the NHL level, he came very close on a number of occasions in recent years with the New York Islanders. In the season prior to taking over, the Islanders had a record of 35-37-10 under Doug Weight. That changed instantly under Trotz, who led them to a 48-27-7 record the very next year.

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That success continued for the majority of his tenure on Long Island, as he amassed an extremely impressive 152-102-34 record. By no means were they the most skilled teams in the league; in fact, they were probably among the worst on paper. However, thanks to his shutdown, defensive-styled hockey, they were viewed as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender through three of his four years at the helm.

Sooner the Better for Hiring Trotz

As mentioned, it isn’t likely that Dubas will pull the trigger on a coach swap right away. He is the type of GM who shows tons of loyalty, and that won’t change for Keefe, given that they have a long-time connection back to their days as the GM and head coach of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the Ontario Hockey League.

With that said, a coach like Trotz will always have interest, and if they don’t act, there is a chance someone else will come along and scoop him up. On top of that, the longer he has to come in and apply his systems, the better chance the Leafs will have at succeeding with it come the playoffs. A Trotz hire could very well prove to be the one ingredient this club has been missing.