By DICKSON LIONG
For thecoachessite.comEvery head coach has an expiry date, especially at the NHL level.
Since the Nashville Predators entered the NHL in 1998-99, they have had only one head coach, Barry Trotz.
He was the longest-tenured head coach with one team, but after Nashville missed the playoffs in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, management felt it might have a need to go in a different direction.
However, Trotz was given one last shot.
“I talked to David Poile, the general manager, prior to the beginning of the (2013-14) season,” said Trotz, who presented at The Coaches Site's 2014 conference at UBC last weekend. “Depending on what happened, it was likely
going to be my last season with the Predators.”
The Predators failed to get into the playoffs again, and he was indeed relieved of his duties.
“I was in Nashville for 17 years,” Trotz stated. “It's home for me, it's a wonderful city. I worked for David for a long time and it was just time. I've signed one-year deals with them for about eight seasons or so. David and I have a good relationship. Going into last season, I knew that we needed a bounce-back season for the franchise.
“When you're in a non-traditional market, which Nashville still is, you need to have success and be in the playoffs every season. We sold the Shea Weber signing that he was going to be with the team for a long time. But last season, by not making the playoffs, they really didn't have anything to sell. The only thing they could sell was change.”
That change was Peter Laviolette, who was named as Trotz's replacement on May 6.
Meanwhile, the Washington Capitals also had failed to reach the playoffs and decided that a shakeup was needed. They chose not to re-sign general manager George McPhee after 17 seasons and also fired head coach Adam Oates.
The Capitals knew what their plan was, as they promoted Brian MacLellan to senior vice-president and general manager on May 26.
As well, they named Trotz their head coach on the same day.
“It was pretty simple for me,” Trotz said. “I started with the Capitals. I actually went to their training camp in 1982 as a player and then was a scout for them and coached in their farm system prior to getting hired by Nashville.
“When I looked at where the Capitals were in terms of the core and age of the
team, I thought that that was pretty intriguing. I thought that there was a lot of talent there, and a team that I felt could do some damage in the future.”
That they do, being led by 28-year-old sniper Alex Ovechkin.
But Trotz's decision to join the Capitals was based on more than the team’s talent and skill levels. It was more than just having connections with Washington.
“Being in the Eastern market was really important to me,” he revealed. “I have a 13-year-old son with Down syndrome. His name is Nolan. We're moving to Arlington, and I really felt that being on the East coast with his siblings working in Nashville and going to school there, it'd really make sense for them to travel.
“Based on our family, one of the things that I always found, and it's a reality of having a child with special needs, is that sometimes you're worried about your child having friends, because sometimes they don't come knocking at the door. So, as parents, we have to facilitate that.
“His siblings love him to death, they have sleepovers with him, all those things. I wanted to be able to be in a position and a city so they could come visit him.”
Trotz has needed to adapt for Nolan. In return, Nolan has helped bring something his father didn't have.
“Anybody with Down syndrome, what I found is that they have an extra gene,” Barry explained. “I think it's 'the love gene.' Before my son was born, I was obviously coaching, and I thought everything I said and everything I did was the most important thing in the world. However, when he was born, I realized that it wasn't. I realized that I needed balance in my life, and he's given me balance.
“So I look at teaching young people with a lot more balance in my life. Because of that, I think I'm a better coach and a better person for it. Nolan's made me a better dad, a better husband, and a better coach.
“My wife and I looked at having a child with special needs as a blessing. Everybody worries about how kids with disabilities can affect their lives, but it's an absolute blessing, and most people don't get that. My wife and I get it. If God decided that he was going to give us a special needs son, we felt honoured that he would pick us.”
Many coaches spend the majority of their time with their team or in an office. For Trotz, Nolan is just as big a priority as anything else.
“It's tough when I'm away from him,” Trotz said. “It's tougher in the Western Conference because the travel is a lot more. That's why you have to have balance. There's times when I know when he's got an event to take part in so I will leave the office early and take my work home to do at night instead of during the office hours.
“He wasn't around the team a lot when I was with the Predators because we practised downtown. After the home games, he was really good. He's done a couple of press conferences with me. A game could go really poorly for me and the team, and I walk down the hall and Nolan would run around and give me a big hug. It puts everything into perspective: we had a bad night, let's get over it, and let's be better the next day. It lets me let go of things.”
And so it is that a new chapter begins for the Trotz family.
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