Washington Capitals head coach Barry Trotz entered the 2017-18 season as a lame-duck coach. He was in the final year of a four-year contract and an extension had not been given prior to the start of the season.
Still without the contract extension, Trotz has finally guided the Capitals past the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. A victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning would put Washington in its first Stanley Cup Final since the 1997-98 season.
The 2017-18 season presented Trotz with some very difficult circumstances. The roster was decimated by free agency and the NHL Expansion Draft. As a result, he was forced to rely on some unproven and inexperienced players, particularly on defense.
There was an expectation that Washington would struggle this season, but Trotz and company found a way to get it done.
There’s no question that Trotz has found great success with the Caps in the regular season. Washington has won three Metropolitan Division titles (including this year) during Trotz’s four-year tenure. The Caps won back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons.
In four years under Trotz, the Caps have compiled an overall record of 205-89-34 during the regular season.
Unfortunately, regular-season success has not converted to winning in the postseason.
Before the current playoff run, Trotz had failed to get past the second round. In each of the past two seasons, the Capitals were loaded with talent were arguably the best team in the league. However, each season ended the same way—with a second-round loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Those disappointments in the postseason became a part of Trotz’s legacy and were probably one of the biggest factors in his not receiving an extension yet.
Let’s face it—regular-season success means nothing if it’s constantly followed by postseason failure.
Trotz Changing the Narrative
With a roster lacking depth and the reputation of being a loser in the postseason, Trotz was going to have to do something big during this year’s playoffs to earn the contract extension.
When Washington dropped the first two games at home to Columbus in Round 1, the usual story seemed to be writing itself once again. But this year was to be different. Rather than sticking with the status quo, Trotz made some subtle changes to the line combinations.
Perhaps even more importantly, Trotz was willing to admit that his choice of starting Philipp Grubauer as the goalie in the playoffs perhaps wasn’t the best. He watched Grubauer struggle early against the Blue Jackets and didn’t hesitate to go back to his regular starter, Braden Holtby.
Washington stormed back after the change in net and went on to take the Columbus series in six games.
Round 2 brought yet another matchup with rival Pittsburgh—the third time in three seasons. A third straight series loss to the Penguins in the second round would have all but assured that the Caps would enter next season with a new bench boss.
Fortunately for Trotz, the 2017-18 season didn’t end in the second round. Regardless of how the Eastern Conference Final turns out, Trotz can say that he’s accomplished something in DC that hasn’t happened in 20 years.
Before the start of the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs, Washington GM Brian MacLellan stated that he would wait until after the playoffs to decide whether or not to extend Trotz. MacLellan himself was given an extension during the regular season by the Capitals.
Nobody can blame MacLellan for wanting to wait and see how far Trotz takes his team this year.
So the question remains—did Trotz do enough to earn a contract extension and stay being the bench in Washington? Based on what other coaches haven’t been able to do in Washington in recent seasons, MacLellan has to take a serious look at what Trotz can do and has done.
As of now, Trotz should be rewarded for what he’s done this year. If he were to lead the Caps to the Stanley Cup, then that extension should absolutely be given.