Barry Trotz does not expect to cry when the Capitals play a video tribute to him Friday night in Washington, even though under the right circumstances, the Islanders’ coach is not above shedding a few tears.
“I’m a softie,” he said before Thursday night’s 4-1 win over the Devils at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum. “I’ll cry during watching ‘The Notebook’ on TV when it’s on. I’m a very emotional-type guy.”
But when it comes to the Capitals, the team he led to the Stanley Cup in June, he got most of the nostalgia out of his system when the teams met at Barclays Center on Nov. 26 and Trotz received his championship ring.
He also addressed the opposing team’s players shortly before facing them, an extraordinary turn of events but one that illustrated the respect he earned in that dressing room.
“The first time going into Barclays and actually going into the locker room and seeing the guys for the first time, that was more emotional, probably,” he said.
Still, Trotz said he is grateful for any gesture from the Capitals, given that he was there only four seasons, making this return less impactful for him than when he returned to Nashville after having been there for 15 seasons.
“I’ll get to say some goodbyes to people I never got a chance to, so from that standpoint it will be real nice,” he said. “But emotionally I’ll be fine.”
For the Islanders and their fans, the only important thing is that he is theirs now. The contract dispute that led him to leave shortly after parading the Cup so far has been a godsend.
Trotz has the Islanders in serious playoff contention, thanks primarily to a radical improvement on defense. His guidance, along with that of team president Lou Lamoriello, plus the added juice of a partial return to Nassau Coliseum has been the best story in New York-area hockey, and one of the best in the NHL.
“He’s helped me lot, he’s helped the team a lot,’’ said Mathew Barzal, the team’s leading scorer. “[Assistants] Lane Lambert, [John] Gruden, as well as Lou, they’ve just turned things around, habits and professionalism.
“It’s all the time and from top to bottom. Off the ice translates to on the ice.”
Said captain Anders Lee, “Him and Lane and Mitch Korn, director of goaltending] have really just taken us by storm. There’s so much respect for him and the staff and what they have to offer . . . It’s just been a wonderful fit for us.”
Even if Trotz, 56, were inclined to think deeply about all that has happened in the past seven months, he has not had time to do so.
His “whirlwind” included joining the Islanders in June, his daughter Shalan’s wedding in August, training camp in September, the opener in October and his family moving to Garden City to join him in November.
“It was a fantastic summer,” he said. “It was just a lot.”
There still are moving boxes all over his house, but the other day, he finally got to meet one of his neighbors. It’s a process. But on the ice, so far, so good.
“I didn’t know how this year would go, but I knew that we were going to be building something, and it starts with let’s build a foundation of correcting the defensive part of it,” he said. “Let’s correct if there are cultural things that need to be corrected. They did a lot of good things here. This is not an indictment of any past regimes. But let’s do it our way.”
Trotz knows winning four Cups in a row, as the Islanders did long ago, is not a realistic goal in the modern NHL. But winning consistently is.
“I think obviously this fan base deserves that,” he said. “That was just the mission. Let’s just make sure we’re a rising team. How far can we take it day by day? We will look back at the end of the year and see how far we can take it, see if we can raise the bar even higher all the time.”
Jot that down in your notebooks, Islanders fans. Tears optional.