It’s not a done deal, yet. But the Winnipeg Jets and Barry Trotz are inching closer to a union that would appear to be a match made in hockey heaven.
Additional talks between the parties to take on the head coaching role are ongoing, with two independent sources telling the Free Press on Thursday the next few days could be critical. It’s just the latest sign that the planets appear to be aligning for a happy homecoming for Trotz, who grew up in Dauphin.
The Vegas Golden Knights hired Bruce Cassidy earlier this week, and Philadelphia is set to fill its vacancy with the fiery John Tortorella. That’s especially noteworthy since the Flyers made a big run at Trotz, who reportedly informed them earlier this week he was going in another direction.
That would appear to be north — or True North, in this case.
Despite plenty of other names cycling through the rumour mill — Jim Montgomery, Pascal Vincent, Scott Arniel, Alain Vigneault and Kirk Muller among them — the Jets have made Trotz priority No. 1 this offseason. He is exactly what they need. And the hope all along is that the feeling is mutual.
General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and company initially interviewed the 59-year-old on May 17, just days after New York Islanders Lou Lamoriello stunned everyone by firing him, claiming the team needed a "new voice" which was quickly filled by Trotz’s assistant, Lane Lambert. It was more of a feeling-out chat with Winnipeg, as Trotz has wanted to take his time and explore all options. That has included chatting with several teams that had job openings, including Vegas and Philadelphia. Clearly, nothing came to fruition on those fronts.
Now, Trotz and the team have circled back to each other this week. Trotz apparently has aspirations to transition out of coaching into a more senior management role with an organization down the road, which is no doubt part of the ongoing discussions. Money, I’m told, will not be a sticking point.
The two sides are, indeed, slated to meet over the weekend, sources say.
There was some local hand-wringing following reports out of Nashville that Trotz and his Winnipeg-born wife just purchased a house in Music City to the tune of US$1.5 million. Sources say not to read anything into that. Trotz has made the Tennessee capital his off-season home for years, having spent 15 years in that market. That hasn’t precluded him from taking jobs in Washington and New York, nor will it impact his next position.
Boston, Dallas and Detroit are the other teams currently scouring the open market. Edmonton, Florida and Chicago could also join the mix if they don’t make their interim bench bosses permanent hires. Jay Woodcroft (Oilers) and Andrew Brunette (Panthers) would appear to be slam-dunks to stay.
Bringing Trotz into the fold would be a major coup for Winnipeg, which certainly could use help both on and off the ice after a disappointing 2021-22 campaign in which the Central Division squad missed the playoffs for the seventh time in 11 seasons. Longtime coach Paul Maurice abruptly resigned in mid-December, and interim coach Dave Lowry was unable to get this talented but flawed group on track.
Lowry, along with associate coach Jamie Kompon and assistant Charlie Huddy, were all informed at the end of the year they were not being brought back. The only exception is goalie coach Wade Flaherty. There was plenty of frustration and hostility by the end of the campaign, led by top centre Mark Scheifele insinuating he might want a change of scenery.
Trotz is among the best-ever at his craft, with only Scotty Bowman and Joel Quenneville having more wins than him. He won the Stanley Cup in the spring of 2018 with Washington, only to depart for Long Island after the Capitals didn’t want to give him a considerable pay raise after that. He led New York to two straight appearances in the Eastern Conference Final, where they were ousted both times by the eventual champs in Tampa Bay.
The Islanders took a step back this past year by finishing ninth with a 37-35-10 record and missing the playoffs, but there were significant underlying factors. They were forced to play the first 13 games of the year on the road while their new arena was still under construction, and that was quickly followed by a major COVID-19 outbreak through their locker room which the NHL forced them to continue playing through with an AHL-level roster for a couple weeks.
Overall, Trotz’s teams have made the playoffs 14 of the last 17 years. He’s known for his attention to defensive detail, an area in which the offensively gifted Jets could certainly use some help.
Nobody buys a ticket to watch the head coach, but there’s no question Trotz could give the club a boost at the box office. The Jets didn’t sell out a single game last year, and plenty of anger and (even worse) apathy appeared to be setting in. As well, someone of Trotz’s calibre won’t hurt when it comes to recruiting free agents to sign here. Perhaps he could even help mend the obvious broken fence with Scheifele.
Trotz has deep roots in Manitoba. His first job in the sport was selling 50/50 tickets as a kid attending Dauphin Kings games. He landed 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.
The so-called "TrotzWatch" has taken on a life of its own around here in recent weeks, with no shortage of local business offering up incentives to try and sweeten the pot. Free beer, Countryfest tickets, a lifetime subscription to the Dauphin Herald, oil changes, free-range eggs and sausages are among the carrots being dangled his way.
That’s all great, but I suspect the chance to work with the likes of Connor Hellebuyck, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Josh Morrissey in a hockey-crazed market that happens to be in his own backyard is the ultimate sales pitch here.
Now, the focus turns to whether or not the Jets can seal the deal. Stay tuned.
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.