We began our search for a new head coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs with an in-depth look at Peter DeBoer over the weekend. DeBoer officially received the MLHS stamp of endorsement, but he has since been confirmed to be remaining in New Jersey next season. Be it a new deal, or a contract option we weren’t aware of, apparently his contract isn’t expiring anymore.
Next up we’ll look at someone whose contract definitely did expire: veteran coach Barry Trotz, formerly the longest-tenured coach in the NHL before his 15-year-reign as Predators bench boss ended just the other day.
What share of the blame should Trotz receive for the team’s failure to produce enough offence the last two seasons versus say, the Predators’ scouting (traditionally unearths defenceman more successfully) and management?
Dirk Hoag: That’s a thorny issue, because by all accounts Trotz was heavily involved with the free agent acquisitions the team made last summer, such as Matt Hendricks, Eric Nystrom, Matt Cullen and Viktor Stalberg. While the final accountability for personnel decisions has to rest with David Poile, the public proclamations were all about how they got the players that Barry wanted. Perhaps Stalberg’s case was the most frustrating this season, because Trotz treated him much like Mikhail Grabovski in his final year with Toronto (often playing on the Gaustad line), and there’s a feeling that under a new regime he might become more of a scoring threat.
Scouting is also to blame, however, as Nashville has failed to consistently develop offensive talent in-house. Assistant GM Paul Fenton has run the draft operation for years, and the oft-stated preference for “character” over skill is why the Predators’ top two forward prospects have arrived via trade (Calle Jarnkrok and Filip Forsberg).
How do Trotz’s teams fare in terms of five on five possession?
DH: This season wasn’t too bad, actually, as they were basically a break-even bunch. Paul Gaustad gets the lion’s share of D-zone starts and his numbers suffer as a result, but otherwise it’s a moderately effective team. The one question I’d like to examine (but just haven’t had time to) is whether a prepoderance of Shots For are coming from the defense, however. A typical Nashville possession involves getting the puck deep into the corner or behind the net, and trying to attract enough attention from the opposition to feed the points for slap shots, hoping to capitalize on tips and rebounds.
With shooters like Dion Phaneuf and Cody Franson (if he’s back) on the Toronto blueline as well as talented youngsters like Rielly and Gardiner, that model might not be a bad fit there.
When did Trotz stopping getting “more out of less” as he was reputed to do for so many years, and why?
DH: Even this season I think many would say he squeezed the best out of this roster as he could, but there are two questions left open – first, since he got the players he asked for in free agency, the roster issues are partially his fault, and secondly, the slow, unsteady progress of forwards such as Colin Wilson, Craig Smith, Gabriel Bourque and others has been an issue for several years, probably dating back to when the team first rose to prominence coming out of the Great Lockout of 2004-5, and the Alexander Radulov saga. Once he had talented veterans to work with like Paul Kariya, Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont, it seemed like working youngsters into the mix up front was something he struggled with.
To what degree has Trotz relied on high end goaltending for his defensive system to work?
DH: Ever since the Fire Sale of 2007, when David Poile had to purge the payroll while Craig Leipold was selling the team, the mindset has been to build out from goaltending and defense. It’s telling that during his farewell press conference Trotz choked up before talking about goaltending coach Mitch Korn, calling him “one of my best friends”, and it’s hard to overstate Korn’s importance to the Predators over the years. He didn’t just help develop Pekka Rinne and Tomas Vokoun into stars, but he wrung outstanding seasons from guys like Dan Ellis and Chris Mason in the past. It will be interesting to see if Korn follows Trotz to his next gig, as his contract is up as well.
Could you see Trotz’s coaching style and personality, after 15 years, smoothly transitioning into a market that couldn’t be more night and day to Nashville, like, say, Toronto?
DH: Trotz could be an excellent fit for Toronto, as he would probably shore up their defensive game and presumably enjoy the opportunity to have a sniper like Phil Kessel in the lineup (recall that the Preds hotly pursued Kessel at the time of the trade with Boston). He has a tremendous amount of goodwill built up in the media, so might get a bit of a honeymoon period to make things work.
There’s no question that such a change would bring huge challenges, however, particularly on the media front. Trotz has a reputation for giving folks lots of time here in Nashville, but I doubt he’d be able to keep up such a policy in that media whirlwind. Setting boundaries would be a priority there, and the heat would certainly rise quicker there than in Nashville, where very few members of the traditional media (who are overwhelmingly football-first in their expertise) feel confident enough to criticize the team publicly.
Further, how would you envision Trotz handling a team that is constructed around lots of offensive talent with little defensive buy in?
DH: I would expect that he would get right to the point that defensive buy-in is not optional, and that those who perform as requested will be given the opportunity to help the team succeed, while those who don’t will watch from the press box. As demanding as Trotz can be as a head coach, the one thing he does have a reputation for is being open in his communication with players, so there shouldn’t be any mystery as to why certain guys might lose ice time.
Overall, I think Trotz could be a fine choice for Toronto – although his track record in the playoffs is poor, he should be able to stabilize things there and it would be fascinating to see what he might do with a team that doesn’t have to worry about budget constraints.
What’s your level of interest in Barry Trotz, MLHS?