Opinion

It’s a match made in hockey heaven. A heartwarming story that practically writes itself.

It’s a match made in hockey heaven. A heartwarming story that practically writes itself.

And the Winnipeg Jets should not only be pinching themselves right now — no, Kevin Cheveldayoff, you’re not dreaming — but also moving mountains to find a way to bring Barry Trotz back home and make him their next head coach. While they’re at it, they can also send a nice fruit basket and thank-you card to clueless Lou Lamoriello and the New York Islanders for gifting them a golden opportunity on Monday.

This is how negotiations between True North and Trotz should go:

TN: "Barry, It’s Chevy here. Mark Chipman and David Thomson are on the line as well. We’ve sent a blank cheque your way. Just name your price, fill it out, send it back and we’re good to go. Just let us know if you want to have the official announcement at Portage & Main, or maybe up in Dauphin on Barry Trotz Way. Congrats on the street naming, by the way!"

Trotz, 59, needs no introduction around here. He is a proud Manitoban whose first-ever job in the sport was selling 50/50 tickets as a kid attending Dauphin Kings games, then landing his first head coaching gig with the MJHL team in 1986-87, following a one-year stint as an assistant with the University of Manitoba Bisons. His elderly father, a retired mechanic for CN Rail, still lives in the community, and Trotz returns to visit throughout the year, including in January when his mother died. He doesn’t need to be reminded Winnipeg to Dauphin is only a three-and-a-half hour drive away.

<p>JOHN LOCHER / ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO</p><p>Barry Trotz is a proud Manitoban whose first-ever job in the sport was selling 50/50 tickets as a kid attending Dauphin Kings games.</p>

JOHN LOCHER / ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

Barry Trotz is a proud Manitoban whose first-ever job in the sport was selling 50/50 tickets as a kid attending Dauphin Kings games.

He is firm but fair, charming and charismatic and, most importantly, damn good at his job. Among the best ever, in fact. A future Hall of Famer.

Just ask the Washington Capitals, who won the 2017-18 Stanley Cup under his leadership. Or the Islanders in the two seasons prior to this one, who were extremely thin on paper but made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Final before falling both times to the eventual champs in Tampa Bay.

Trotz’s teams had made the playoffs seven straight years until this most recent campaign, and 14 of the last 17 years. His attention to defensive detail is key — I think I know a team that is sorely lacking in that department — but he’s also shown the ability to connect with superstars such as Alex Ovechkin and get them to play the type of game that wins in May and June, when the stakes are highest.

Coaches of his calibre don’t hit the open market very often. Assuming he wants to remain in the game, competition for his services will no doubt be fierce. Philadelphia and Detroit also have vacancies at the moment, and several other NHL teams might just create ones if they could get Trotz behind the bench. Which is why Winnipeg must be absolutely ruthless in their pursuit of a true difference-maker. It will mean loosening the pursestrings and shelling out a lot more for a coach than they have in the past. It will be money well spent.

You want to get a talented but deeply flawed squad back on track and turn underachievers into overachievers? Hire Trotz.

You want to get a talented but deeply flawed squad back on track and turn underachievers into overachievers? Hire Trotz.

You want to send a message to your loyal but increasingly impatient fan-base that you’re really in this to win this and get some excitement back, the kind that sells tickets? Hire Trotz.

You want to get disgruntled core players like Mark Scheifele buying in to the need for structure and systems and effective two-way play? Hire Trotz .

You want to become a place where free agents will consider, and those with no-trade clauses will consider waiving to come to? Hire Trotz.

Only the immortal Scotty Bowman has spent more time behind an NHL bench than Trotz, who coached 1,812 regular-season games in Nashville, Washington and Long Island. If number 1,813 happens with any other team but Winnipeg, the Jets organization will have racked up arguably its biggest franchise loss to date.

I’m sure there are some folks — I’m looking at you, Lou — who will point to this past season as some kind of sign that Trotz has lost his touch. Nonsense.

<p>NOAH K MURRAY / ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO</p><p>New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz is firm but fair, charming and charismatic and, most importantly, damn good at his job.</p>

NOAH K MURRAY / ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz is firm but fair, charming and charismatic and, most importantly, damn good at his job.

Sure, the Islanders took a step back by finishing ninth in the Eastern Conference with a 37-35-10 record and missing the playoffs, but there should be a giant asterisk beside their name. For starters, they were forced to play the first 13 games of the year on the road while their new arena was still under construction. A 5-6-2 record immediately put them in chase mode, and the task became darn near impossible when COVID spread through their locker room and the NHL forced them to continue playing with an AHL-level roster for a couple weeks.

To their credit, the Islanders and a mostly mediocre roster put together by Lamoriello never quit under Trotz, despite the top eight teams in the East basically lapping the rest of the field by the All-Star break. (They went an impressive 29-17-6 over the final 52 games). Lamoriello’s decision to make Trotz the scapegoat sent shockwaves through the hockey world. He told reporters he felt his club needed a new voice, then admitted he never even consulted with his players.

Huh? This is likely going to go over about as well as spoiled milk, and it’s clear Lamoriello’s best before date has certainly passed. But New York’s loss should be Winnipeg’s gain. If anything, Trotz should be more motivated than ever. And you’d have to think the chance to get his hometown NHL team to the promised land would be quite the bucket list achievement for a guy who’s pretty much done it all in the sport.

Lamoriello’s decision to make Trotz the scapegoat sent shockwaves through the hockey world. He told reporters he felt his club needed a new voice, then admitted he never even consulted with his players.

Not to mention being able to work with a former Vezina winner in Hellebuyck, an elite goal-scorer like Kyle Connor, a flashy winger like Nikolaj Ehlers and a powerful young two-way centre like Pierre-Luc Dubois, among others in the Jets system.

Yes, there are likely plenty of solid coaching candidates out there. Guys like Mark Morrison from the Manitoba Moose, former assistant Pascal Vincent who’s now in Columbus and former Jets forward Scott Arniel, now an assistant in Washington. Randy Carlyle and Alain Vigneault have organizational ties, too, along with other quality names just champing at the bit for their big-league chance.

But Trotz suddenly becoming available is a game-changer. And game-ender. Forget about the process and due diligence when it comes to an exhaustive off-season search. Effective immediately, Winnipeg has its next hire. They now must find a way to make it happen.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.