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Trotz should trump loyalty in Jets’ coaching search

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They may have already set their sights on old friends Randy Carlyle or Scott Arniel as their next head coach.

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Perhaps former Manitoba Moose AHL boss Pascal Vincent is on their radar, too.

But if Winnipeg Jets co-leaders Kevin Cheveldayoff and Mark Chipman don’t send the hunting hounds out after Barry Trotz, they’re putting blind loyalty ahead of good hockey sense.

The Jets GM and chairman of the board caught an unexpected break on Monday, when Trotz received his walking papers from New York Islanders boss Lou Lamoriello.

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If you could have hand-picked the next Winnipeg bench boss from across the league, Trotz, ranked third in NHL coaching victories, all-time, would have been in the top three.

And, now, assuming he still wants to coach, he’s available.

They say timing is everything. Well, she’s appeared on the Jets’ doorstep, dressed to the nines.

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That’s how many playoff rounds Trotz’s teams competed in over his first three seasons on Long Island.

When he took over, he immediately turned an 80-point, non-playoff team into a 103-point team that reached the second round.

In that first year, the Isles went from allowing the most goals in the NHL to allowing the fewest, the first team in 100 years to pull that off.

Sound like an approach the Jets could use?

Trotz won his second Jack Adams Award as the league’s coach of the year that season.

His encore: two straight trips to the Eastern Conference final and losses to eventual champion Tampa Bay both times, an environment the Jets could only dream of these last four years.

Before that, Trotz got the perennially underachieving Washington Capitals over the hump.

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Going into that job, the story goes, Trotz prepared a list of some 100 questions for Capitals star Alex Ovechkin, starting with, “How can we get you the puck more often?”

His second season in Washington, Trotz won his first coach-of-the-year award. Two years later, he and Ovechkin quenched their longstanding Stanley Cup thirst, resulting in a day with the trophy the Manitoba city of Dauphin won’t soon forget.

Oh, did we forget to mention Trotz is from Dauphin? That he played for the Manitoba Junior League’s Kings, before starting his coaching career there?

From there he took over the bench of the University of Manitoba Bisons, at age 25.

Players still recall the first-day speech he gave at what’s now called the Wayne Fleming Arena, since named after the man he replaced, the late, great Bisons coach.

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Trotz told his players he’d never coached at that level before and was going to make mistakes, but it wouldn’t be for a lack of trying.

“As green as can be,” then-Bisons forward Bill Keane recalled, in a column I wrote about Trotz just over two years ago. “He Came in admittedly as a newbie. The guy was being honest with us, and I respected him.

“I would have put my face in front of a puck for him.”

Five years after that season at the U of M, Trotz was a head coach in the pros, taking over Washington’s AHL team in Baltimore.

A year later he led Portland to a Calder Cup title.

Four years later he was in the NHL, taking over expansion Nashville and squeezing the most from a budget-challenged roster for the next 15 seasons.

Near the end of that run, the Predators in town to face the Jets, Trotz took a few minutes to reflect on his longevity and coaching philosophy.

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“I get asked a lot of times, because I’ve been here a long time, ‘Does your message get old?’ Trotz said then. “Playing well as a team, having strong defence, having a good work ethic and people with good character — if that’s a bad message to keep pounding the rock with, then maybe I’m in the wrong business.”

That same day, Trotz compared the job of a head coach to that of a general contractor in a large construction project, overseeing some 20 smaller companies – the players.

“They’re all sort of subcontractors,” I explained. “And you’ve got to make them be part of something bigger.

That’s what coaching is. It’s not just the Xs and Os of the game. It’s about managing people and building relationships and helping them play to their ceiling, or close to their ceiling.”

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Have Cheveldayoff and Chipman been listening?

Loyalty is a powerful force for the Jets’ brass. They’ve shown that over the years.

Leaned on too heavily, it can be a fault.

This is too golden an opportunity to let loyalty get in the way.

There will be competition for Trotz’s services. Three times, his teams have won at least 50 games. They’ve won at least 40 to a dozen times.

Never mind this past season, his fourth with the Islanders. It was hijacked by a season-opening, 13-game road trip while their new arena was being finished and a run of injuries and COVID-19 absences.

The bidding for Trotz will cause Chipman to extend himself beyond what he’s ever paid a head coach.

But after a season of gross underachievement, Jets fans are turned off. Apathy is growing.

And the Jets have an ace in the hole: Trotz’s roots.

At age 59, what better time to come home?

pfriesen@postmedia.com
Twitter: @friesensunmedia

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