For this writer the most beautiful aspect of the Washington Capitals first Stanley Cup win is that gave head coach Barry Trotz some richly deserved glory and immortality after 19 seasons of solid hockey coaching with a corresponding lack of playoff success to go along with that escutcheon of regular season success.
In my book Bench Bosses: the NHL’s Coaching Elite I had featured Barry Trotz in my chapter “Heartbreak Coaches” because when the book came out in 2015 Trotz had led his teams to eight playoff appearances without ever reaching the Stanley Cup finals (for those of you who have not read my book a “heartbreak coach” is someone who can lead his teams to the playoffs but is incapable of reaching the Stanley Cup finals let alone win the Stanley Cup finals). And when my book came out Barry Trotz fit that description perfectly: leading the Nashville Predators and Washington Capitals to eight playoff failures and what was even worse none of those times had he ever reached the conference finals where at least he had a shot at ending his heartbreak coaching streak. In the years that followed Trotz tacked on two more playoff failures and what was even worse was that he won two consecutive President’s Trophies in the process and yet was slain by the Pittsburgh Penguins who went on to win the Stanley Cup.
2017/18 did not augur well for Barry Trotz and the Caps. They lost their domination of the Eastern Conference to the Tampa Bay Lightning although they rallied to retain the Metropolitan Division title. What was worse was that there were murmurs from the Caps front office that if the Caps fell short again in the playoffs then Barry Trotz would not be retained as head coach.
When the playoffs began Barry Trotz was poised to become the second greatest heartbreak coach in NHL history with 11 playoff failures to his credit (one behind Jacques Martin). And throughout the playoffs Washington played like they were their own worst enemies: allowing Columbus to take 2-0 series lead in round one; allowing Pittsburgh to steal home-ice advantage in round two; allowing Tampa Bay to take a 3-2 series lead with home-ice advantage in their favor; allowing Las Vegas to take a 1-0 series lead in the finals.
But this time history was stood on its head and the hockey world was turned upside down because the Caps did what the politicians refuse to do in Washington, DC: buckle down as a team, work their way out of the morass; devoting themselves to playing defence: taking pain, blocking shots, playing with aggressiveness and refusing to surrender. Throughout the playoff run goalie Braden Holtby demonstrated courage and poise and the Caps drew strength from Holtby’s example (in my view Holtby should have won the Conn Smythe Trophy).
The end result was comeback series win in all four rounds; their first Stanley Cup finals appearance since 1997/98; and, joyfully, their first Stanley Cup win as a franchise.
The Stanley Cup win finally propelled Barry Trotz into the ranks of the Top 50 coaches of all time as determined by my rating system featured in Bench Bosses. When the 2017/18 began Trotz ranked 55th (behind Bob Pulford) with a coaching value of +29 but when Barry hoisted the Stanley Cup he had added 21 points to his value; vaulted 24 steps in rank with a coaching value of +50 and he now ranks 31st on the all-time list between the late Bryan Murray and Dan Bylsma.
He is no longer a heartbreak coach because when the Caps reached the finals that ended Trotz’s heartbreak coaching streak. He now has become the ninth coach in Hockey history to end his heartbreak coaching streak (thus joining other former heartbreak coaches like Emile Francis, Al Arbour, Darryl Sutter, Joel Quenneville, and Bryan Murray to name a few). And with his first Stanley Cup win Barry Trotz has saved his job as head coach of the Caps. If he doesn’t get a well-deserved extension then there is no justice but I think this one time justice will be served, a rare instance in the daily life of Washington, DC.