The Capitals should fire Barry Trotz.
That’s right. They should summarily dismiss the man who ranks fourth on the NHL all-time wins list, who has coached his team to back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies, who manned the Metropolitan bench at this year’s All-Star game, and perhaps most relevantly, who is still the bench boss in the Nation’s Capital with the regular season’s penultimate month just around the corner.
The best thing for Brian MacLellan and the Capitals’ front office to do is tell Barry it’s not you it’s me, and send him off with a backpack full of memories that he’ll begin to cherish once the sting of the heart fades. I’ve found that listening to Something Corporate’s album North on repeat helps.
This argument hinges on one very important assumption: that Barry’s time in Washington will come to an end when the Capitals’ season does.
To that end, Bruce Boudreau’s leash lost its slack after four failed playoff appearances (only two of which breached the second round), and he had his superstars’ youth on his side. Dale Hunter said sayonara after one push into the second round. Adam Oates also only made one postseason appearance. Barry’s squad will come up short again this year in all likelihood (no seriously, it’s basic probability), and that’ll be his fourth swing and a miss in Washington, and his 11th since getting his first head coach gig in Nashville back in 1998.
For a team whose golden goose at this point is to just make an appearance in the Conference Championship, and whose generational franchise player is 32 years old and getting ready to exit his 13th season in D.C., it’d sure be an interesting choice to give Barry a 12th crack at the egg and test Einstein’s (allegedly) definition of insanity.
More to the point, Barry’s Caps aren’t exactly primed for a surprise thrust towards glory. This year’s squad has crashed to four-year bottoms in possession...
in shot generation...
and in shot suppression...
So in summary, Barry’s Caps have flamed out in round two each of the past three seasons. This year he’s got a team that generally underperforms each of those previous teams. Meanwhile, in-conference foes Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Boston, and Toronto all materially improved their rosters at the trade deadline, while the Caps stood pat.
And while the Caps have amassed a respectable pile of wins on the year, drilling a bit deeper in that also reveals an alarming subplot.
Food for thought:— Japers' Rink (@JapersRink) February 27, 2018
The Caps have 35 wins on the season.
16 of the 35 have come against teams that are currently in playoff position.
3 of the 16 have come since January 1 (3W, 8L in CY2018; 13W, 7L before).
1 of the 3 saw the Caps post a score/venue-adjusted CF% above 45.
(Check out the latest episode of Japers’ Rink Radio for a deeper dive on the systemic issues.)
All the while, a much speculated-upon head coaching candidate stands behind the Capitals’ bench night in and night out, and seems an obvious choice for Trotz’s inevitable replacement. Adding more credence to the notion that Caps’ brass view Reirden as a viable head coach is the fact that they refused to let inquiring teams wine and dine him during the most recent offseason.
So here’s a situation staring the Caps in the face: the squad fizzles out in this year’s playoffs, the FO ditches Barry for Todd, and a 33 year-old Alex Ovechkin and 31 year-old Nicklas Backstrom are each looking at burning another year of their franchise-backbone contracts under the supervision of an untested rookie head coach.
So why not avoid that and do the trial run now? There’s no guarantee you’re ever going to see Alex Ovechkin perform at this year’s level again (though surely we’ve learned to bet against the man), and at this point the Capitals window is largely defined by Ovi’s ability to produce. So get your next bet on the table while the dice are still hot.
The story of the last decade and a half of Capitals hockey is nuanced and dramatic, but you can boil it down to this: the organization’s obligation to Alex Ovechkin to maximize their opportunity to win each and every remaining year of his outstanding contract is profoundly greater than it is to give Barry Trotz a fourth opportunity to make poor lineup decisions when it matters most.
Given the team’s performance to date, and the roster we now know they’ll have entering the playoffs, there’s no reason to think Barry Trotz gives these guys a better chance to win than Todd Reirden. But starting next year, a season deeper yet in the careers of the best player’s the Capitals organization has ever been blessed by, with a rookie head coach seems like a good way to maximize the likelihood of flushing yet another campaign of Ovechkin and Backstrom down the toilet.
So why not can Barry, slap the interim tag on Todd, and give it the ol’ college try before the 2018 cherry blossoms show up in D.C.? Trotz achieving a result that’s greater than any of his previous 11 playoff appearances is improbable, and instead you can get a read on Reirden’s compatibility as your bench boss for the remainder of the greatest goal scorer in NHL history’s time in Washington. Know sooner than later if he’s the answer, and act accordingly. Sort of like when 18 years ago the first-place New Jersey Devils fired Robbie Ftorek with eight games remaining in the season. The ending to that story? Interim-coach Larry Robinson leading his team to a Stanley Cup. An excerpt from that clipping:
Asked about taking such drastic action with only eight games left, [Lou] Lamoriello said he felt comfortable with the decision because Robinson represented continuity at the coaching level. He said that Robinson was familiar with the team and the players and added, “It would be too late if I waited any longer.”
Sound applicable to this year’s Caps?
The consequences of perennial disappointment have added up, and now even a couple months’ time could be a critical squandering of the last bit of prime from a legendary career. Firing Barry Trotz is a strategically sound gambit, even though there’s little precedent for such high-level personnel changes made this late in the season.
But hey, it worked for Pittsburgh, and they also went on to drink deep of what Barry Trotz has never even smelt.