The Washington Capitals have had 17 head coaches in their 44 years. Only one — Barry Trotz — has won a Stanley Cup.
And owner Ted Leonsis didn’t think that was worth paying for.
That’s what happened here. You can rationalize it or explain it away however you need to in order to live with it. But this franchise has been desperate to win a championship for decades, and now that it has one, the owner refused to pay his Stanley Cup champion coach what he is worth.
Reportedly, Trotz, whose contract was up at the end of the season, had a two-year extension that kicked in with the title, but the raise was chump change compared to what Trotz delivered to the organization, which has enjoyed a windfall of playoff game revenue and merchandising sales.
So Trotz — with his leverage at a career high — resigned, and will likely get that money he wants elsewhere.
Announcing his resignation Monday afternoon, Trotz released the following statement:
“When I came to Washington four years ago we had one goal in mind and that was to bring the Stanley Cup to the nation’s capital. We had an incredible run this season culminating with our players and staff achieving our goal and sharing the excitement with our fans.
“I would like to thank Mr. Leonsis, Dick Patrick and Brian MacLellan for giving me the opportunity to be part of this great organization. I would also like to thank our players and staff who worked tirelessly every day to achieve our success.”
Trotz, 55, leaves with a record of 205-89-34 in Washington, with three division titles, two Presidents’ Trophies, one Jack Adams Coach of the Year honor — and one Stanley Cup. It wasn’t good enough for Leonsis to pay for that level of success. It never is.
Here is what general manager MacLellan told reporters Monday evening:
“His (Trotz’s) representative wants to take advantage of Barry’s experience and Stanley Cup win and is trying to negotiate a deal that compensates him as one of the better coaches in the league, a top four or five coach. He’s looking for that kind of contract.”
Asked why the Capitals didn’t believe Trotz deserved that much, MacLellan answered, “I’m not saying he doesn’t.”
And then he lowered the boom. Pay close attention.
“I don’t think all teams pay that type of money and years (for coaches),” MacLellan said. “Certain teams are open to it and the rest of the league isn’t.”
Certain teams are open to it — elite teams.
After thousands of faithful filled the streets here in Washington to watch and celebrate the Stanley Cup, MacLellan is telling us his boss doesn’t see his franchise as one of those teams.
Mind you, there is no salary cap for coaches. Teams can pay as much or as little as they want.
MacLellan went on to say that length of contract was a problem — Trotz wanted a five-year deal. “I think the five-year term is probably a sticking point. You have a coach that’s been here four years, you do another five, that’s nine years.”
So what is too long a time for a general manager to be here?
Length of contract was not the problem — it was the reported $25 million that came with it. You can fire a coach anytime. It’s not the law that they have to serve all five years of a deal. It’s up to the owner if they have the stomach to eat that money for a chance to keep the only coach in franchise history to win the Stanley Cup.
Title notwithstanding, Leonsis wasn’t about to be put on the hook for $25 million.
So now the Capitals are likely about to return to the on-the-job training coaching carousel that has ill-served this franchise for years under Leonsis.
No matter how well-groomed assistant coach Todd Reirden — the favorite to become the next head coach — might be, he has zero experience as an NHL head coach.
So Leonsis, MacLellan and team president Patrick really have no idea if he can be a head coach in this league — just like they had no idea if Bruce Cassidy, Glen Hanlon, Bruce Boudreau, Dale Hunter or Adam Oates could be an NHL head coach.
This organization appears ready to get back on the coaching treadmill that led to nowhere previously. It’s the same treadmill former Capitals general manager George McPhee was forced to walk on during his time in Washington under Leonsis — hiring inexperienced coaches on the cheap.
It raises questions about what the real roadblock was here in Washington to Stanley Cup success — the former general manager or the management/ownership above him.
In the only two opportunities that McPhee had a chance to hire a coach without Leonsis as his boss, he hired coaches with NHL head coaching experience both times — Ron Wilson in Washington in 1997 and Gerard Gallant in Las Vegas this past season. It should be noted that in both of those years, McPhee built conference championship teams.
The only time they veered from this practice under Leonsis was with Trotz, who came to Washington with 15 years head coaching experience in Nashville (shows you what a myth it is that NHL coaches don’t stay in one job for any length of time) — and ultimately it paid off in his fourth season on the job with the franchise’s only Stanley Cup.