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Making Sense of the End of the Barry Trotz Washington Capitals

Less than a week after the Stanley Cup victory parade in D.C., Barry Trotz is out as head coach. What happened?
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Money is awesome. We’d all like more of it. They say it isn’t the key to happiness but it sure makes it easier to hire a locksmith. That is to say, Barry Trotz and the Washington Capitals parted ways Monday afternoon, less than two weeks after the coach won the organization’s first Stanley Cup, very likely because of a disagreement about Trotz’s worth, but maybe not entirely over money.

Maybe Trotz made the decision before the season when the Capitals decided against offering him an extension despite coming off two straight Presidents’ Trophy seasons and 101-point season the year before that. Maybe his lame duck status in the face of that success told him all he needed to know about how ownership felt and a low-ball offer in the days following a championship confirmed for Trotz what he already knew a year ago.


Perhaps the only thing that felt as good as raising the Cup to Trotz was raising his middle finger to owner Ted Leonsis.

According to The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun, winning the Stanley Cup triggered a two-year contract extension for Trotz, who would have received a raise from the $1.5 million a year he was making to $1.8 million. Sure, $3.6 million is more than enough money for you to take a dump on your boss’s desk and immediately retire, but that’s well below market value for the most successful coach of the past four years coming off a Stanley Cup season. Mike Babcock hasn’t won a playoff series following a non-lockout season since 2011 and is entering the fourth year of a reported eight-year, $50 million contract, so you understand why Trotz is offering his services on the open market.

Isabelle Khurshudyan of the Washington Post reported the Capitals feel that Trotz should have honored the two-year extension, since he negotiated it into his contract when he signed with the team four years ago. Numbers have yet to leak but you get the sense the Capitals had no intention to pay Trotz anything close to what he believed he deserved in a new deal.

It’s hard to look at this in any other way than the Caps fucking this up, but you can understand how they fucked this up. After two consecutive second-round losses to the Penguins, they were ready to look elsewhere for a coach that could get Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom over the hump. Capitals management and Trotz probably checked out mentally from each other long ago only to realize after beating the Penguins in the second round this season, “Holy shit, are we going to actually do this?”


By then, it was too late to mend fences, much like the way it was too late for Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston in the 2006 film The Break-Up, a very underrated movie even if Vaughn finds a way to shoehorn “make bad decisions” into it like he does in all his movies. By the time Vaughn (the Capitals) realized what he had in Aniston (Trotz), the two had drifted too far apart to ever make it work again.

It’s easy to say the Capitals should have offered big money to Trotz after they realized what they had, but no romantic dinner or emotional speech was ever going to win him back and maybe no amount of money ever would have been enough. I’m not sure who Todd Rierden is in this 12-year-old movie metaphor but the Capitals probably were planning on leaving Trotz for him since the end of last season and Trotz most certainly knew it.

So if you’re upset at the Capitals for letting the franchise’s only Stanley Cup-winning coach leave less than a week after the parade, you shouldn’t be upset about what’s happened since the end of the season; you should be upset about what the organization decided before the season. And if that’s the case, you should be honest with yourself and ask if you really had any faith in Trotz winning a Cup in Washington before it actually happened.

Take it a step further, and if the Capitals had given Trotz an extension before the season, you can argue the Stanley Cup never happens. Who can say what a pissed-off, nothing-left-to-lose version of Trotz would have done vs. a version of Trotz that felt the love in the form of an extension before the season? Everything fell perfectly into place for the Capitals this season and maybe a placated Trotz does just enough to throw the magical season off-course.

And if Trotz had signed an extension and won the Cup, you can be sure it would be for less money than he’s sure to receive with whichever team signs him. So since he’s getting more money and a Cup as a direct result of the Capitals disrespecting everything he had done before the season, Trotz should be thanking the Capitals!

(If Leonsis really said that to Trotz and there’s video, I’ll pay money for it.)

Given everything the Capitals have been through since Ovechkin and Backstrom arrived in Washington, it’s hard to get too upset about how Trotz’s time ended. There are fans who would have given thought to removing certain appendages if it meant seeing the Capitals win the Cup, so there’s no Capitals fan in the world that wouldn’t have traded Trotz for a Cup, especially when many were willing to go with Rierden before the playoffs started.

It’s a disappointing ending, but everyone gets what they wanted: Trotz will get a big, new contract, the Capitals will install Rierden, and long-suffering fans got that elusive Cup that seemed far out of reach as recently as four months ago.