Talk about the luck of the Irish. On his first day on the job, Brendan Shanahan was handed a gift in the form of Barry Trotz being fired by the Nashville Predators.
And there is no move that Shanahan, the new president of the Toronto Maple Leafs, could make that would create as much excitement and give this team the boost it so desperately needs than to fire current coach Randy Carlyle and replace him with Trotz. It’s been speculated that Shanahan had his eye on Peter DeBoer, but the New Jersey Devils coach still has a year on his contract and will soon sign an extension. John Tortorella if he loses his job in Vancouver? Well, this crew of defensive misfits could do worse, but that might just be a little too toxic.
The Nashville Predators decided not to renew Trotz’s contract because it was time for a new voice. With 1,196 games and just two playoff series victories to his credit, Trotz cannot say he is being hard done by in losing his job. Hockey is a results-oriented business and the tandem of GM David Poile and Trotz did not deliver.
It could be argued that nobody did more with less than Trotz. He has done a tremendous job of keeping them competitive despite injuries and budget constraints and some of those eight straight seasons they made the playoffs, the Predators had no business being there. The knock on Trotz, and it is indeed warranted, is that the Predators have never in their history had a go-to offensive player. The Predators reputation as offensive bottom feeders is slightly overblown – they finished fourth in league scoring once under Trotz and have been in the top 10 four times – but things were clearly not getting any better on that front. The Predators have finished 20th or worst in scoring three of the past four seasons.
And beyond that, no Predator forwards ever seemed to be able to blossom offensively under Trotz. The best chance they had for that was probably Alexander Radulov, a player who clashed often with Trotz before moving to the Kontinental Hockey League while he was still under contract to Nashville.
Is Trotz the perfect coach? Of course not. But he is the perfect coach for the Maple Leafs and the one they need the most right now. This is a team that collectively has no concept of puck possession, is terrible at defending and is far too small on the wings to play against heavy teams. Once its unhealthy reliance on goaltending and opportunistic scoring caught up to it, the team was thrown into a death spiral that simply could not be stopped.
And that’s where Trotz would come in. Say what you want about whether or not Trotz can take a team to an elite level in the NHL. It’s a legitimate question. But what Trotz can do is take a bad team and make it better. And that’s what the Maple Leafs need right now. They do not need a coach who can deliver them a championship or even a long playoff run because the reality is they are so far removed from being that kind of team at the moment that doing so shouldn’t be a priority.
What the Leafs do require is a radical culture and systemic change, someone whose message about playing without the puck is going to get through. There are players who need to be accountable for their play in the neutral and defensive zones of the ice. The Leafs don’t have much NHL talent beyond their core of stars. Those players, though, can be serviceable third- and fourth-liners and depth defensemen if they can learn how to defend and cut down on the number of chances against them.
There would be a transition period. So who cares if Trotz were to clash with Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk over their defensive play? It’s not as though the Leafs have accomplished much with those guys scoring the way they have. Perhaps under Trotz, Kessel might never finish in the top 10 scoring, but he might be a better player. Or even better, perhaps Trotz can find a way to make Kessel a better defensive player without sacrificing offense.
Carlyle is a good coach and a good man who is a bad fit for this team. This is not a team that needs to lead the league in fights and in the top five in penalty minutes. Having those kinds of numbers has not made them one iota more difficult to play against, nor has it made them any more intimidating. Either Carlyle can’t teach this group how to play a tighter game or his message has fallen upon deaf ears. Either way, that’s on the man behind the bench.
That’s why a new voice is needed in Toronto. And the Leafs would be well advised to make it Trotz’s voice.