No one can agree on how the Caps’ offseason has gone so far, but I’ve got my suspicions. I’m gonna come at this from a few different angles, but I think you’ll like where we end up. I’m calling this series, “The Caps got better†.”
First up: Barry Trotz is out.
It’s hard to quantify the impact of a coach. The things that coaches control (e.g. lineups, strategy, tactics, when to pull the goalie) aren’t the biggest factors in a team’s regular-season success, which is more often driven by a combination of team talent and luck, especially volatility in shooting and saving. But we have to begin by noting that under Trotz the Caps had more regular-season success than any team in the NHL, recording 13 more wins than the next best team.
That’s head-and-shoulders above the competition. That plus a championship means I understand where ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski is coming from when he says this:
Former associate coach Todd Reirden might end up being an excellent coach, and the Capitals might run on autopilot with so many returning players, but Trotz is a tough act to follow — four straight seasons of the second round in the playoffs at a minimum, and the first Cup in franchise history.
Seeing disagreements on the Capitals' ranking. Discourse is healthy. But "Reirden will be fine" is a prediction. "Trotz is a successful coach who got them to the second round each year & won a Cup" is tangible. They're a good team. But that's a downgrade. https://t.co/9VZdq5fBXe
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) July 17, 2018
But it’s hard to attribute that success directly to Barry Trotz, who got to work with some of the best rosters the franchise has ever seen, and whose impact on the team was perhaps overstated in comparison to the toilet tire fire that was his precursor, Adam Oates. When Trotz took over, I predicted that the Caps would improve — to some extent merely because they removed a very bad coach. Oates was an outlier in how much he hurt his team, whereas Trotz was at least a competent one who introduced badly needed structure.
Still, he was not without fault.
In 2015, Trotz played 6’0″, 217-pound defenseman Tim Gleason in every game of the playoffs. In the final two games of the second round, something was obviously off. Gleason played under 10 sheltered minutes in each game, both of which the Caps lost. Gleason never played again. In 2016, Trotz scratched Nate Schmidt to play Mike Weber against the Penguins in game four. We later learned that Weber needed a career-ending knee-replacement surgery, which is something I think about a lot when I see this highlight.
Weber never played again.
These are two examples of poor lineup/evaluation decisions , but there were many, many, many, many more — enough for Japers Rink to advocate for replacing Trotz late in the season and for me to second the motion. Obviously, fate interceded and the Caps won a championship on the strength of their grit.
The purpose of this history is not to talk trash about Trotz. It is just to model our expectations for how the team might perform without him. And honestly, we still don’t know. Coaching is a black box of which we can see only the output. But I think it’s fair to say that Trotz’s reputation as an unqualified improvement for his teams is uncertain. Whether the brutal, self-defeating lineup decisions and deference to size or experience over — um — youth and beauty? — will continue under Todd Reirden is an open question. For now, I just want to encourage skepticism should you see someone decrying the Caps for losing the fifth most winningest coach in NHL history if they don’t also note that he’s the fourth most losingest coach in NHL history.
So the Islanders get Barry Trotz, which did not help them retain John Tavares (whoops). Trotz brings with him Lane Lambert and Mitch Korn, while the Caps avoid a $20-million coaching obligation and become increasingly Bowling Green-y with Todd Reirden taking over and Blaine Forsythe staying put. That’s a lot of change behind the bench for a Cup winner, but I’m optimistic.
Next time: Exits.
† But not necessarily, ya know, Stanley Cup better.