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Trotz of Islanders gained trust on road to 1,700 NHL games coached

Will be third to reach mark tonight after rocky start with expansion Predators

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / Deputy Managing Editor

Barry Trotz doesn't enjoy being the center of attention. He never has.

So it was hardly a surprise Trotz cracked a joke when he was informed that he'll become the third in NHL history to coach 1,700 games when his New York Islanders host the Boston Bruins on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; TVAS, MSG+ 2, NESN, NHL.TV).

"It means that I'm old," the 58-year-old said Sunday after the Islanders' fifth straight win, 5-2 against the Buffalo Sabres at Nassau Coliseum.

Trotz will join Scotty Bowman (2,141) and Florida Panthers coach Joel Quenneville (1,729) with 1,700 games as an NHL coach. Trotz entered the NHL coaching ranks with the expansion Nashville Predators in 1998 and was there until 2014, when he began a four-season run with the Washington Capitals. Trotz won the Stanley Cup with the Capitals in 2018 and left after that championship season to become coach of the Islanders.

Video: Barry Trotz set to coach in 1,700th NHL game

The win Sunday was Trotz's 860th in the NHL; he also is third on that all-time list behind Bowman (1,244) and Quenneville (940).

"I guess in one way I'm not surprised because of the hard work he put in from Day One," said Paul Gardner, an assistant for Trotz's first five seasons in Nashville. "The minute he became a coach, it was long hours in the office. He was always studying video, trying to get better, trying to learn. He would study other coaches of other sports. I remember him going to see (former NFL coach) Tony Dungy at one point, just to see how he was successful." 

Trotz was hired as the first coach in Predators history on Aug. 6, 1997. He and Gardner, also his assistant when they won the Calder Cup three years earlier with Portland of the American Hockey League, spent the 1997-98 season traveling across North America scouting players with hopes of forming a competitive NHL team out of the gate.

"A scout in Toronto has three or four places that he can go and watch and be back home. We didn't have a home game to scout," Gardner said. "We were constantly on the road trying to see as many games as we could."

David Legwand was the first player drafted by the Predators; the center was the No. 2 pick in the 1998 NHL Draft and is their all-time leader in goals (210), assists (356), points (566) and games played (956). Legwand, now a co-owner of Sarnia in the Ontario Hockey League, credited Trotz for establishing a family environment immediately. 

"He's a guy that loves the game of hockey," Legwand said. "The best thing about him is he's a personable guy, he's a real human. He treats every player like they're his own kid.

"He's a big reason why teams are doing the fathers' trips and the mothers' trips; him and (Predators general manager) David Poile kind of started that. Teams didn't really do that. He wanted to see them have a chance to see their kids' lives away from the home rink. He did a good job with including everybody in the organization in everything."

The Predators finished 28-47-7 and had 63 points in their inaugural season of 1998-99. They allowed 261 goals, second-most in the NHL behind the Tampa Bay Lightning (292). 

"I was just trying to make it through [my] first year in the National Hockey League as a coach," Trotz said. "Hopefully I've grown as a coach over the years, all the people I've had."

Nashville clinched its first Stanley Cup Playoff berth in its sixth season, but the relationship Trotz and Poile shared remained strong despite the early lack of success. Together, they won 557 games in 15 seasons.

"The trust they had in each other and the work ethic they both had, they were both people that were there first thing in the morning and the last people to leave, always," Gardner said. "I think that was a big part of it. They both believed in the same style, the same way to win. I think David trusted Barry and saw Barry growing as a coach. They both knew it was going to take time, but it was great to see them work together."

It's been seven years since Trotz left Nashville, but he's continued to pad his resume. On top of winning the Cup with the Capitals three years ago, he's won the Jack Adams Award twice, voted as the top coach in the NHL (2016, 2019), including in his first season with the Islanders. For an encore last season, New York reached the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 1993.

"From Day One, he's come in here and done everything that you would expect from a coach with his tenure and his success," New York captain Anders Lee said. "It's been great to be a part of, and kudos to him for everything that he's accomplished and has worked so hard for." 

Video: Lee, Nelson score in Islanders win

But in vintage Trotz fashion, he'll never make it about himself.

"It starts with the belief from the general managers, with David Poile allowing me through some tough times to fight through with it, to build a culture hopefully in Nashville when I was there," Trotz said. "I had that opportunity in Washington, and now here on the Island. It all starts with the people that hire you, and I've worked for three outstanding general managers (Poile, Capitals GM Brian MacLellan, Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello). We've had a lot of victories between us."  

There are no signs of slowing down either; Trotz enters his 1,700th NHL game with the Islanders first in the MassMutual East Division. The Islanders (15-6-4) have a .680 points percentage, slightly ahead of the second-place Capitals (.667), and are playing to an identity Trotz craves -- roll four lines, suffocate the opposition, keep the puck out of your net.

New York has five shutouts this season and hasn't allowed more than two goals in a game during its winning streak. It is third in the NHL, allowing 2.20 goals per game.

"It's a big accomplishment, 1,700 [games]. When you look back and those first couple of years [in Nashville], you never know what's going to happen," Legwand said. "They stuck with him, he stuck with them and it worked out for the best."

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