By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor
That big splash you heard on Monday morning was one of the NHL’s elite coaches suddenly becoming a free agent. In a surprising move, the New York Islanders fired Barry Trotz after four seasons.
The Islanders join the Flyers, as well as the Detroit Red Wings and Winnipeg Jets, as teams with current coaching vacancies. The Chicago Blackhawks currently have Derek King in an interim role. So do the Florida Panthers with Andrew Brunette and the Edmonton Oilers with Jay Woodcroft, though both are in the playoffs at the moment.
The Flyers made the announcement last week that they would be undergoing a coaching search for a new head coach. Mike Yeo served as the interim for the remainder of the season following the firing of Alain Vigneault on Dec. 6.
So does the entry of Barry Trotz into the coaching free agent market change things for the Flyers? There are cases for both answers.
Obviously Trotz comes with a hefty resume. Assuming he is hired by another team this offseason, Trotz will continue a streak of 23 straight seasons in a head coaching role. At age 36, he took his first head coaching job with the then-expansion Nashville Predators, a position he held for 15 seasons.
After Nashville, Trotz coached the Washington Capitals for four seasons, culminating in a Stanley Cup championship in 2018. After that season, his contract was up, and Trotz was hired by the New York Islanders, where he spent the past four seasons.
In that time, Trotz has a coaching record of 914-670-60-168. His 914 wins are third-most in NHL history.
This makes Trotz another example of a head coach the Flyers have tried to succeed with in the past, one that comes with a track record of such success. In franchise history, the Flyers have employed five of the Top 15 coaches in career wins. Vigneault was the most recent of the group, which also includes Ken Hitchcock, Peter Laviolette, Pat Quinn, and Mike Keenan.
When you look at the current state of the Flyers, it’s fair to wonder why a coach like Trotz would even be a fit. One of the winningest coaches in NHL history sure sounds like the type of coach that is meant for a team more ready for that big leap into a successful run as a contender, not what the Flyers are at the moment. It’s why names like Rick Tocchet, Jim Montgomery, and David Quinn have been floated as possibilities, or why the Flyers could even look to go completely off the radar and hire someone that has no prior head coaching experience in the NHL.
But Trotz has been a part of NHL success stories throughout his career. He took expansion Nashville and made it a hockey town, eventually helping the team to their first playoff series wins from humble beginnings.
He took Washington, who had won three playoff series in the previous 15 years, over the hump and led them to the promised land in his fourth season with a Stanley Cup title. In the three seasons prior under Trotz, the Capitals reached the second round each season and had two Game 7 losses in the second round.
He took the Islanders from nearly being irrelevant, a team that had just one playoff series win in 24 seasons, and in two years had them playing such structured hockey that the only thing stopping them from two Stanley Cup Final appearances was the reigning two-time champions in Tampa Bay.
So if Trotz is up for the challenge, which is certainly his decision, he could be exactly the type of coach the Flyers need to promote more structure defensively and become a similar team to what the Islanders were in the two prior seasons and what the Capitals became.
What about the financial situation? Well, if Dave Scott’s “blank check” comments hold any weight, money will not be an object in negotiating with Trotz. If the Flyers want him, they will do what it takes to try to get him. And there doesn’t seem to be any hesitance on the part of the Flyers organization, despite the fact that they still have Vigneault “under contract” for two more seasons.
There is no shortage of options for the Flyers when it comes to head coaching candidates. Names like John Tortorella, Paul Maurice, and Claude Julien are already free agents. Joel Quenneville is another name floating around, as he reportedly is interested in returning behind the bench for a team, but that would certainly come with controversy that the Flyers don’t need at this time. And there may be other teams around the NHL that currently have head coaches under contract that enter the free agent pool as well – it’s possible Bruce Boudreau decides not return for Vancouver.
For the Flyers, it is absolutely due diligence to call Trotz and at least inquire about his services. Anything short is organizational malpractice. But ultimately, this will be Trotz’s choice. Perhaps he would choose the Flyers with the thought that he can take on the challenge and bring them back to contention. If he’s looking more for a win-now situation, he would almost definitely look elsewhere.
If anything, it may speed up the process for the Flyers in their head coaching search, which is imperative anyway. For the Flyers to at least have some form of approach to the offseason, it would behoove them to have a coach hired and know the style that he brings behind the bench. That can influence some of the decisions going forward. Perhaps, if nothing else, Trotz entering the coaching free agent market moves things along for the Flyers in their coaching search.