Make no mistake: Tuesday’s bread-breaking session between Barry Trotz and the Winnipeg Jets was as much about the coveted head coach interviewing the hockey club as it was the other way around. Fact is, the veteran bench boss with a Stanley Cup on his resume is going to have no shortage of suitors, and True North has its work cut out convincing the Manitoba product to come home.
Philadelphia, which will reportedly have its own fireside chat with Trotz on Friday, and Vegas are two other potential landing spots with vacancies to fill and a desire to make a big splash in their markets following disappointing years.
Gentlemen, start your sales pitches!
Although it was a positive sign Winnipeg got the first shot, expect TrotzWatch 2022 to continue for at least a few more days, perhaps even weeks. The decision is ultimately in his hands. And only the Dauphin product knows what would constitute a perfect fit at this stage of his decorated career.
Although it was a positive sign Winnipeg got the first shot, expect TrotzWatch 2022 to continue for at least a few more days, perhaps even weeks.
It’s not difficult to imagine how the spiel from Mark Chipman, Kevin Cheveldayoff and company might have sounded. An opportunity to work in his own backyard for someone whose roots run deep. A passionate and educated fan-base. Having the full support of loyal ownership and management to continue spending to the salary cap ceiling. The 2020 Vezina winner in Connor Hellebuyck in the prime of his career. A talented forward core with the likes of Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers and Pierre-Luc Dubois just starting to realize their potential. A pool of promising young prospects such as Cole Perfetti and Ville Heinola.
Trotz, we’ve heard, has aspirations to eventually transition out of coaching into a more senior role with an organization, and you’d have to imagine that type of arrangement in Winnipeg would make a lot of sense for all parties. No question his services will carry a steep price, but I don’t envision any scenario where it boils down to cold, hard cash and the Jets are outbid. They recognize the immeasurable value, both on and off the ice, that someone of Trotz’s pedigree will bring to a roster and a hockey-crazed community that desperately needs a jolt.
And so we wait. Whether it’s Trotz, or someone else, calling the shots starting next season, it’s important to remember the many challenges the next coach will be facing. A quality hire is a great start, for sure. But it’s by no means a guarantee of success, especially when expectations will be immediately heightened.
There are several key questions that must be answered, and I suspect Trotz might have raised a few of them during his sit-down earlier this week.
Let’s start with just how coachable this group really is. There were times this past year I wondered if even the immortal Scotty Bowman — one of two coaches in NHL history with more wins than Trotz — could have got this talented but deeply flawed squad pulling in the same direction, considering their erratic play and the concerning comments from plenty of frustrated players who openly questioned bedrock issues such as motivation and preparation. Those were big red flags being raised publicly. One can only imagine what was being said behind closed doors.
Whoever assumes the reins must know what they’re stepping into — and what kind of roster moves might be needed, if any, to ensure this doesn’t all go south again in a hurry at the first sign of adversity.
Whoever assumes the reins must know what they’re stepping into ‐ and what kind of roster moves might be needed, if any, to ensure this doesn’t all go south again in a hurry at the first sign of adversity.
Which brings me to the status of disgruntled franchise centre Mark Scheifele, who sure sounded like a guy who wants a one-way ticket out of town at his bizarre post-season media availability. Even though he hasn’t specifically asked Cheveldayoff for a trade, it has certainly been implied. I believe the chances are great he’s played his final game in a Jets jersey, but perhaps a new voice — especially one as accomplished as Trotz — might give everyone pause for thought before pulling the trigger on a blockbuster that would shake the organization to its foundation.
Scheifele, 29, is still a point-per-game player with a terrific value contract that has two years remaining. Can a new coach bring out his best, get him to play a more inspired two-way game that helps his team get over the hump? Trotz got Alexander Ovechkin to do just that as they won a Stanley Cup together in 2018. Finding out where Scheifele fits into the immediate future is a top priority. There’s also the not insignificant matter of Dubois’ next contract and what that looks like. Getting the pending restricted free agent locked up long-term is a nice security blanket for a new coach to inherit.
Scheifele is also part of a leadership group, along with alternate Josh Morrissey and captain Blake Wheeler, which is going to require tweaks, perhaps sooner than later. Morrissey is the undisputed No. 1 defenceman, and he’s not going anywhere. Nor should he. But what is the succession plan from Scheifele and Wheeler, who also has two years left on his deal before presumably retiring? And how quickly might it come into play, given the seemingly fractured nature of the franchise following an underwhelming season in which they missed the playoffs for the seventh time in 11 years.
Scheifele is also part of a leadership group, along with alternate Josh Morrissey and captain Blake Wheeler, which is going to require tweaks, perhaps sooner than later.
Morrissey aside, there’s also the state of the blue-line, which once again spent far too much time chasing the puck, and rival players, in its own zone this past year. Attention to defensive detail is paramount, and that speaks to both the personnel and the systems being employed. What kind of changes might be coming, either by trade, free agency or even internally, to ensure Hellebuyck isn’t continually being hung out to dry?
One thing we know about Trotz: This is an area where his teams typically thrive, which is just another reason he and the Jets seem like such a strong fit. It’s why I believe the organization is taking a big swing at trying to bring him here.
They have some stiff competition. No doubt the Broad Street Bullies will try to flex their muscles, just as those scoundrels from Sin City will pull out all the glitzy stops to lure him south. Whether Winnipeg wins the Trotz sweepstakes or has to resort to Plan B, there’s no question the next coach will not only have several promising pieces to work with, but several problems that must be fixed.
There is considerable pressure to get this right.
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.