Barry Trotz

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A special night for Barry Trotz on his return to Washington

A special night for Barry Trotz on his return to Washington

WASHINGTON — Barry Trotz stood on the unfamiliar visitors’ bench and scanned the rafters at Capital One Arena as the national anthem played. 

It had to be around here somewhere. He looked to one side of the scoreboard and then the other. Finally his eyes locked on the 2018 Stanley Cup banner hanging in the south end of the arena, a testament to a season he will remember the rest of his life. 

"I was just focused on the game. Until the national anthem, I didn’t even know where it was,” Trotz said. “I was looking on the other side, around the clock, and then I turn around and there it is. That’s a proud moment for everybody involved: ownership, Ted Leonsis, and [Brian MacLellan] in management, and the players and everybody, the fans. That’s the one you want.” 

Trotz could afford a reflective mood as he spoke after a 2-0 win against the Capitals in his first game back in Washington since leading the franchise to its first Stanley Cup last June. The Islanders broke a scoreless tie with two goals in the third period just 2:26 apart. They are the surprise of the NHL after losing star center John Tavares to free agency last summer. They are all alone in first place in the Metropolitan Division now well past the halfway point of the season. 

Trotz stayed focused before the game. He arrived hours before game time and holed up in his office trying to figure a way the Islanders could win the second of a back-to-back against the rested Capitals.

At the first television timeout of the first period, Trotz steadied himself for the video tribute the Capitals put together. There, on the giant scoreboard, the indelible images flashed: Trotz at his opening press conference in 2014, promising his new team had what it took to win a championship, winning the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year, laughing with his players, skating the hot laps during last year’s playoffs, lifting the Stanley Cup. The Capital One Arena crowd stood and roared for the entire break in the action.  

“My heart got full of all the good memories,” Trotz said. “I was looking up there. I was trying not to look too much because I was getting pretty close to that sensitive side of myself. But it was extremely well done and it was just great memories. Everybody was a part of something special.”

Afterward they had another mini reunion outside the Washington locker room, his home for four years. Trotz and Lane Lambert, his assistant for all four years with the Caps, chatted with players as they came out. It wasn’t as emotional as the championship ring ceremony when the two teams first met on Nov. 26 in Brooklyn. Trotz’s voice wavered as he addressed his former players before that game. This time was all laughs. 

Capitals assistant Blaine Forsythe was there and head coach Todd Reirden briefly stopped by. Tom Wilson and Matt Niskanen and Devante Smith-Pelly came over to say hello. Brooks Orpik, who had a memorable night of his own with a ceremony for playing in his 1,000th NHL game earlier in the week, leaned against a wall and chatted with Trotz and Lambert, who jabbed Caps goalie coach Scott Murray and said he better have a “hotter suit” the next time they meet, which will be in New York on March 1.

Maybe then the Islanders will have come down to earth or maybe Trotz is in the midst of another magical season. Maybe these two teams, with so much shared history, are destined to meet again in the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

“They’ve got the same team. They’re a good hockey team. There’s no question,” Trotz said. “They’ve got lots of mettle and it starts with their leadership and [Nicklas Backstrom] and [Alex Ovechkin] and that core group….That whole group, Johnny Carlson, all the guys that have here for a long time, they’ve got lots of mettle. I’m fortunate to have another great group to work with on the Island. As I said to them, I hope we can have the same experience down the road. It’s special doing that.”




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Barry Trotz’s return eight months after Stanley Cup an unprecedented moment in D.C. sports

Barry Trotz’s return eight months after Stanley Cup an unprecedented moment in D.C. sports

ARLINGTON — It will be a moment unprecedented in Washington sports history. 

Just eight months ago, Barry Trotz was the toast of D.C., the man who labored four years to get the Capitals a Stanley Cup and finally did it. The champagne-and-beer-soaked celebration lasted almost a week. 

But before the end of June, before the parade confetti had been swept from Constitution Avenue, Trotz was gone, a contract impasse too much for either side to overcome. He resigned with Washington’s permission and landed a new job with the New York Islanders, who visit Capital One Arena for the first time this season on Friday. 
There will be a video tribute to Trotz during the first period and you can expect a standing ovation from Capitals fans for the man who delivered them a title for the first time in franchise history.
After that, two teams battling for first place in the Metropolitan Division will try to resume an important January game. The Capitals have slipped lately. The Islanders, who lost star center Jon Tavares in free agency to the Toronto Maple Leafs, are the surprise of the NHL. Trotz at midseason is a candidate for the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year. 
“We see every game as a normal game and try to get ready as a normal game whether there’s a former coach or it’s a playoff game,” Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said. “But obviously we all know what Barry’s done for us here as players and for us as a city and it’s pretty special so I’m sure he will be well-received here tomorrow and he should be. He deserves it.”
There have been other prominent athletes and coaches who have returned to the District. But nothing like this. Joe Gibbs coached the Redskins to three Super Bowl titles in 11 seasons and they reached a fourth. Burned out and ready to pursue other interests, including his NASCAR team and a brief stint as a television analyst, Gibbs eventually returned to coach the Redskins in 2004. One local newspaper headlined the seismic event “Return of the King.” But Gibbs came back as the Redskins coach, not as an opponent, and it was 11 years after he’d left. He led Washington to the playoffs twice before retiring for good after the 2007 season. 
Championships aren’t exactly common in this city. Dick Motta led the Bullets to an NBA title in 1978 and to the NBA Finals in 1979 before the team fell apart in the 1979-80 season. Frustrated, Motta received permission to speak to other NBA teams before the start of the 1980-81 season and was hired by the expansion Dallas Mavericks. 
But he had left on poor terms with his former players and the memories of the championship season had dimmed by then. The Mavericks were outmatched when Motta returned to Capital Centre on Nov. 6, 1980 in a 116-95 loss to the Bullets. His return didn’t exactly capture the city’s imagination, either. Only 6,285 fans were there to see it.
Many thousands more will be on hand when Trotz and the Islanders play the Capitals on Friday. Washington won the first meeting on Nov. 26 in Brooklyn. Trotz was presented with his championship ring in the Capitals’ locker room before that game. The expected ovation from the Capital One Arena crowd will put a final closure on the most memorable season of his hockey career.    
Prominent athletes have also returned to Washington after distinguished careers. Gilbert Arenas was a beloved character for the Wizards from 2003 to 2010, but injuries kept those teams from a deep playoff run and an infamous locker room gun incident led to a 50-game suspension in 2010. The following year Arenas was traded to the Orlando Magic and received a warm ovation when he returned to Capital One Arena on Feb. 4, 2011. But those mid-to-late 2000s Wizards were looked upon as a self-destructive group winning just one playoff series and never more than 45 games. 
Peter Bondra played 961 games for the Capitals before they traded him to the Ottawa Senators in the midst of a total teardown. He was traded Feb. 18, 2004 and was back in Washington by March 8, where the fans serenaded him with “Let’s Go, Bondra!” chants. But again the atmosphere was muted given the Capitals had already traded almost all of their veteran players that season and wouldn’t make the playoffs again until 2008. They lost 4-1. 
Trotz ranks second all time in coaching wins with the Capitals (205) behind Bryan Murray (346) despite coaching in Washington just four years. He led the team to two Presidents’ Trophies and three Metropolitan Division titles to go with that Stanley Cup. The ring ceremony was special, he told his former team in a moving speech before the Nov. 26 game. His Islanders have won 13 of their past 16 games and are now just one point behind the Capitals in the division, making Friday's game especially meaningful.
“For him it’ll be a pretty emotional night,” Capitals forward Tom Wilson said. “We went through a lot, he was here for a long time, ups and downs, he was part of the community and I think he’s well respected by the community of D.C., so it will be a great moment for him and his family. He deserves it. He put in a lot of time and worked extremely hard to get this team to accomplish what we did last year. It will be good to see him again - and to take him down.”


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Can Barry Trotz, New York Islanders' transformed defense take down the Capitals?


Can Barry Trotz, New York Islanders' transformed defense take down the Capitals?

The Capitals play the New York Islanders for the first time this season Monday (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington Plus) and there will be a familiar face behind the bench for New York. Here are a few things to watch.

Going against Barry Trotz

The last time we saw an NHL head coach leave after a championship run was in 2002 when Scotty Bowman retired after winning a third Stanley Cup in six years with the Detroit Red Wings. You have to go back to 1994, however, to find a coach who left after winning a Cup who then returned the following season with another team. Mike Keenan went from the New York Rangers to become the head coach and general manager of the St. Louis Blues.

Trotz led the Caps to the first Stanley Cup in franchise history in the 2017-18 season and then abruptly stepped down as head coach in the offseason after a failed contract negotiation with the team. Three days later, he was named the head coach of the New York Islanders.

There will be nothing but positive emotion for the Caps’ former bench boss heading up to Monday’s game. Along with Lane Lambert and Mitch Korn, Trotz will receive his Stanley Cup ring prior to the game. The impact he had on this team is undeniable and he will go down as one of, if not the best coach in franchise history.

But all of that will be forgotten once the puck drops.

Trotz knows the Caps about as well as anyone. In his first season on Long Island, New York is exceeding just about everyone’s expectations after star John Tavares left in the offseason. What tricks will Trotz have up his sleeve for his former team?

Islanders' much-improved defense

Andre Burakovsky ruffled some feathers after a 7-3 Caps win over the Islanders last season.

“My first three shifts, I was skating around and around and around with the puck and making plays,” Burakovsky said last season. “I mean, we didn’t really expect that out of them. We were expecting a little bit harder pressure when we had the puck. But, yeah, they just gave us a lot of ice to skate on.”

Even though he was not the head coach of the Islanders at the time, those comments must have resonated with Trotz when he took the job. That is not an acceptable defense for a Trotz-coached team, and he has dramatically improved the blue line since he got there.

Through 24 games, the Islanders are allowing 2.86 goals per game, better than the 3.13 goals the Caps are giving up this season and a lot better than the 3.57 goals New York was allowing last season.

Tom Wilson, the villain

Wilson has been fantastic since his return from suspension. He has given Washington an obvious spark and is playing exceptionally well with four goals and nine points in seven games.

But there’s always more to the story whenever Wilson visits New York.

Wilson has become somewhat of a villain among the 30 other NHL fan bases, but there are a handful of teams that take their dislike for Wilson to the next level. Pittsburgh is obviously No. 1 on that list, but the Islanders are not far behind.

The Caps and Islanders met in the playoffs in 2015, and Wilson delivered a devastating hit to Lubomir Visnovsky that still resonates with Islanders fans.

The fact that Trotz is now coaching the Islanders also adds an added wrinkle to this as he has been one of Wilson’s biggest supporters in recent years as his head coach. How do things change now with Trotz coaching the other team?

Dominating the Metro

Washington currently sits in first place of the Metropolitan Division, but the Islanders surprisingly sit in third. One of the reasons they have managed to climb the standings is how dominant they have been against divisional teams. New York is currently 9-1-0 against teams within the division with their first loss coming just last week to the New York Rangers. To compare, the Caps are only 3-2-1 within the division.