In his very first professional coaching gig, Barry Trotz
followed close behind Terry Murray
as coach of the Baltimore Skipjacks, then the AHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals
On Saturday, both men will coach their 1,000th game -- Murray with the Los Angeles Kings
after stints with Washington, Philadelphia and Florida, and Trotz for the Nashville Predators
"They did the odds of that happening were 10 trillion to one," Trotz said during an appearance Thursday night on "The NHL Hour with Commissioner Gary Bettman."
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Trotz will become the fourth to coach 1,000 games with a single team, joining current Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff
and former greats Al Arbour
(1,500 with New York Islanders
) and Billy Reay
(1,012 with Chicago).
He joined an exclusive list at the start of the 2011-12 season when he became the seventh coach in the four major North American sports leagues to have been part of each of his franchise's first 12 seasons of existence. The other six are Lester Patrick
of the New York Rangers
, Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics, Curly Lambeau of the Green Bay Packers, Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys, Hank Stram of the Kansas City Chiefs and Paul Brown
of the Cleveland Browns.
"I'm blown away and honored," Trotz said. "Those are legendary names, and I don't consider myself a legend by any stretch. But when my name starts coming up involved with those people, it sort of blows me out."
Trotz has led the Predators to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in six of the past seven seasons, but the early years in Nashville proved to be a challenge. The team won more than 30 games just once and finished out of the playoff picture in its first five seasons, results that might have had other organizations showing their coach the door. Nashville stuck with Trotz, who still doesn't know what it feels like to get axed but is sympathetic whenever one of his colleagues falls victim.
"I understand the dynamics of sports, I understand the different pressures in different markets, I understand the expectations that are put on by the management, ownership, what have you," he said. "I've been very fortunate, and I tell this when people are replaced in our fraternity -- I always call them and say that they are good coaches. The best coaches in the world are in the National Hockey League. It is part of the business, and it's something I haven't experienced so I can't say I've been there, but I just know that it is a lonely place for the coaches."
Working in Trotz’s favor is the man directly above him in the Preds hierarchy, general manager David Poile, who has been in Nashville since Day 1 as well. Poile hired the still-green Trotz against the conventional wisdom that suggested a veteran coach might be better for a fledgling franchise. The two have been inseparable ever since.
Trotz spoke of his strong relationship with Poile and how the GM "allows everybody to have an opinion" when it comes to making important decisions, such as executing trades or forming the Predators' plan for the future.
"One of the things that is clear in Nashville is everybody's allowed to have input and everybody's allowed to do their job, but when the decision is made either by David or myself or whatever particular area the decision is granted to, everybody's on the same page and everybody has each other's back in terms of the decision," Trotz said. "There's no agendas. It's about winning and it's about a real team effort and that's how our team is displayed on the ice and that's how we are in the community."
"I've been very fortunate, and I tell this when people are replaced in our fraternity -- I always call them and say that they are good coaches. The best coaches in the world are in the National Hockey League." -- Barry Trotz
His stability with the franchise has allowed Trotz to put down roots in a community – a luxury that eluded him before joining Nashville.
"I've been in Nashville longer than any place I've ever lived in my life, even growing up in Dauphin, Manitoba, where I'm originally from. This is home," Trotz said.
He went on to add: "Nashville is a hidden gem. It is a wonderful city. The people are fantastic. It has everything that you want and then some, because of the music industry, all of the very, very talented people that we have -- not only from the music industry but the creative side of things. There's a lot of entrepreneurs in Nashville. It's a big city with a small-city feel."
During his time coaching the Predators, not only has Trotz watched the team develop into a consistent contender in the Western Conference, but he's watched the game itself evolve.
"I think our game has gotten so much better," he said. "The rule changes that we've made, it is a faster game. The athletes are tremendously gifted now. I mean, they are fast, they're physical, they do things at such high speeds that the game has changed.
"The first couple years we could sort of grind it down with a very strong defensive-trapping type of system, a lot of hooking and holding if you will. We've changed that. Now you have to skate, it's about skill, it's about speed."