Flyers governor Dave Scott was widely panned in January by writers, podcast hosts, and fans alike when he announced at a press conference that he was giving Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher “a blank checkbook” moving forward to fix the franchise’s on-ice malaise.
Of course, the critics wanted to portray Scott as a know-nothing and tied his blank checkbook comment to the fact that there is a salary cap in the NHL, and currently a flat one at that, making it sound like the big boss either didn’t know the rules of his own sports economics, or, was being hyperbolic at a time when hyperbole was not kindly looked upon by the masses of malcontents who root for the orange and black.
The @NHLFlyers hiring of AV may be the reason they don't get Barry trotz. I'm not sure they want to take on another five or six million dollar salary attached to the 5 million they have to pay AV each of the next two years
— Chris Therien (@ctherien6) May 9, 2022
And while I’m not going to sit here and tell you Scott has suddenly transformed himself from retired cable magnate to a shrewd, hockey guru representing the Flyers ownership group, I will say an opportunity has arisen for Scott to really prove once and for all that he wasn’t kidding about that blank checkbook.
You see, the Flyers need a new coach, and a recent Stanley Cup winner who has also taken his teams to the playoffs in 13 of the last 15 seasons, Barry Trotz, was unceremoniously fired by the New York Islanders on Monday.
To hell with sitting down and putting together a list of attributes you want in the next coach, like Fletcher suggested he would do last week at his season-ending press conference. Blow that plan up. Erase the white board. Crumple the page from you legal pad with the Pros and Cons listed and deposit it in the circular file. There’s no more conversation needed.
Trotz is the coach the Flyers need. Chuck’s list should be short. The check, from Comcast-Spectacor, as promised, should be blank. Go get him.
Now, some will argue that the Flyers don’t want to pay a premium for another coach after forking over the kind of money they did to Alain Vigneault and still owe him another $10 million to NOT coach the team. That’s a big pill to swallow.
But, Scott said “blank check…”
And with that in mind, if the Flyers were going to spend big on a coach, they could have brought in either John Tortorella or Paul Maurice in-season so they could get a lay of the land, a feel for the franchise before truly instituting their systems or game plans. They could have done that with a blank check in December, or January, or even February when they finally admitted their season was all but over.
They didn’t do it then, instead entrusting the development of a variety of young players to interim coach Mike Yeo who, pardon the pun, did yeoman’s work to help some young players take bigger strides than were expected, even if the win/loss results weren’t there.
Yeo did such a nice job, it’s a good bet that he remains with the team in some capacity, either as an assistant or in player development.
Instead, prior to Trotz’s firing, it’s believed that Fletcher was more interested in current St. Louis Blues assistant coach Jim Montgomery.
But that focus needs to shift… and now.
That’s because there are other teams who will want Trotz too.
Aside from the Flyers, Detroit and Winnipeg have openings. There are four teams with interim coaches – Chicago, Montreal, Florida and Edmonton, although, of the four, only Chicago is really considering other options. And there are rumors that the Seattle Kraken may look to part ways with Dave Hakstol after just one season.
Detroit is a sneaky landing place. The Red wings are a team that has been building under cerebral GM Steve Yzerman and feel they are close to breaking out as a contender. They are still young and could use the structure that Trotz brings to his teams to be more competitive in the talent-rich Atlantic Division.
However, the biggest threat has to be the Jets. Winnipeg is Trotz’s hometown and I’m hearing that Trotz has also expressed an interest in eventually moving upstairs to become an executive, which would be more likely with the Jets since the Flyers seem to be grooming the next wave of leaders as they have significantly bolstered their front office and analytics departments over the last few months, which, by the way, also fit under that blank check mentality.
Still, money talks and you-know-what walks, and the Flyers need to prove they aren’t full of it, as many believe, and start to act like the franchise who peacocked around the NHL like Vince McMahon for years, practically saying, “Oh yeah? We’re the fucking Flyers.”
And if they want to get back to being the cock-of-the-walk, then they need to go get Trotz.
Now, stylistically, there are some who agree with me and some who will argue that he stunts any offensive talent the team has.
But, let’s break it down:
Trotz, 59, was the original coach of the Nashville Predators and was behind the bench there for a whopping 15 years, which is an eternity for hockey coaching.
He brought with him, to Nashville, a very structure-oriented style that was built for teams to remain competitive night in, night out, playing big, physical hockey, keeping shots against to a minimum and really concentrating on the defensive side of the game.
After enduring the first five seasons as the Predators built from nothing as an expansion franchise into a potential playoff contender, Trotz found a way to get this team into the playoffs annually – and this was without budding offensive superstars.
However, because of his system, which is deemed “goalie-friendly,” and accentuates the positives of team defensive play, the Predators were always a team that just didn’t have enough offensively to make that deep run.
Which brings us to his second landing spot – Washington, where he took over a team that loved to score – but struggled in the playoffs because it lacked a true defensive identity. It took him four seasons, but he finally got the Capitals to buy in, and collectively Washington and Trotz each won the Stanley Cup for the first time.
Then, Trotz moved on to New York where he took a perennial loser to the brink of the Finals in successive seasons, losing to eventual Cup champion Tampa Bay back-to-back.
The 2021-22 New York season was doomed from the start, as the Islanders were on the road for the first six weeks of the season because their new building wasn’t ready. And after living the nomadic lifestyle, the Islanders had 11 games cancelled and rescheduled into an already condensed calendar, thanks to COVID-19.
The Islanders COVID outbreak was massive, affecting more than half the team, It was just too much to overcome to get back to the playoffs. And yet, despite all the hurdles, the Islanders still finished above .500 (37-35-10, 84 points) and were the best non-playoff team in the Eastern Conference.
Still, Trotz was fired, which was a stunner. The Flyers can capitalize on his ability to turn teams into winners, and no one player would benefit more than Carter Hart. Just look at the success Trotz’s goalies have had. From Pekka Rinne to Braden Holtby, who won the Vezina Trophy the year the Caps won the Cup, to breakout performer Ilya Sorokin with the Islanders.
We know Hart is a good goalie, 2020-21 aside, he just hadn’t had the chance to develop in a linear manner with the Flyers – being thrust onto a good team as the full-time starter in 2019-20, to his own personal collapse a season later, to trying his best to keep the team in games when it was clear it wasn’t a team deserving of the high praise and belief it had in it entering the season.
Hart needs a team that plays defense in front of him. The Flyers do no such thing. They were among the worst teams in the NHL in expected goals against, in Corsi For Percentage, and in High Danger Chances against. Yeah, I’m speaking analytics at you, but these matter – it shows just how crushed the Flyers were in their own zone. That doesn’t happen with Trotz teams.
They are hard to play against. They grind you. They frustrate you. They are physical. And yes, sometimes, they are boring.
And that’s a criticism. That Trotz suppresses the offensive talent of his best players because he makes such skilled players work just as hard as everyone else, backchecking, forechecking, playing defense, blocking shots – you name it, it’s a team-mentality, not an individual one.
Islanders fans who got frustrated with Trotz will point at a player like Matthew Barzal, who is one of the fastest and most-skilled players in the NHL. In his rookie season, the year before Trotz arrived, Barzal averaged 1.04 points per game as a rookie (22-63-85). From there is went down to 0.76 in Trotz’s first season, before stabilizing in the 0.8-0.88 range the last two seasons.
But is that a bad thing? Is sacrificing a little offense to ensure everyone is playing good team defense terrible?
If you take this year out of the equation, Barzal actually got better each year under Trotz, based on the analytics, compared to that memorable rookie campaign:
SEASON PPG xGF xGA DIFF HDCF HDCA HDCF%
2017-18 1.04 50.12 49.24 +0.88 236 220 51.75
2018-19 0.76 49.71 46.05 +3.66 246 214 53.48
2019-20 0.88 51.05 48.30 +2.75 259 236 52.32
2020-21 0.82 38.80 29.55 +9.25 185 120 60.66
Notes: All Data from Natural Stat Trick. All data tracked at 5 vs. 5. PPG = Points Per game. xGF is expected goals for. xGA = expected goals against. DIFF = differential. HDCF = High Danger Chances For. HDCA = High Danger Chances Against. HDCF% = High Danger Chances For percentage.
So, looking at Barzal under Trotz for three seasons, his actual production dipped by .22 points per game, which, over 82 games would be 18.04 points, But the expected goals against – just at 5-on-5 dropped by nearly 20, while the difference in the number of scoring chances from high danger areas of the ice actually improved by 8.91%.
In essence, Barzal became a more effective player for the Islanders by scoring less and playing better team defense – a testament to Trotz’s system.
The point is, there is no negative here. This is the coach who will get the players that have been through two awful seasons who will be back next year playing in a structured system like they’ve not played at the NHL level.
Considering Fletcher might have some challenges acquiring top end talent in the Flyers organization because of salary cap limitations, is there really any other way to go?
Cut the blank check, Dave. In the end, the fans will remember that more than anything else. So, why not make it a positive?
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