Bryan Trottier was flattered when Buffalo Sabres coach Ted Nolan started calling this summer with questions about hockey. He never expected those calls would result in a job offer.
More than a decade removed from his last stint behind an NHL bench, the Hockey Hall of Fame member now is working his way back into the League and excited to help a young Sabres team rebuild.
"He [Nolan] was calling to run some ideas by me," Trottier told NHL.com. "I'm thinking it's going to be about young kids and maybe I'll give him a hand here or there. It was really kind of neat when he asked the question."
Trottier was a key member of the Islanders' dynasty in the early 1980s and remains active with the team's alumni. He and Nolan became friendly during Nolan's two seasons (2006-08) as coach of the Islanders. After Nolan coached Latvia at the 2014 IIHF World Championship in Belarus, he got in touch with Trottier to talk hockey. A few weeks later, after going back and forth on the phone, Nolan offered Trottier a spot on his staff.
Having made the decision 11 years earlier to take a break from the game, Trottier needed some convincing.
"I didn't know. I hadn't been behind the bench for a while," Trottier said. "He kept calling every other day. Once I made that decision and talked to my wife, I thought this could be fun to get back on the bench and be involved on a day-to-day basis, working with 23-25 guys and getting in their kitchen and build their confidence. It has just kind of been building."
After almost a week's worth of calls from Nolan, Trottier was added to Buffalo's coaching staff Aug. 4, along with Danny Flynn, Arturs Irbe and Tom Coolen, Nolan's assistant with the Latvia national team.
Nolan and his staff face an enormous task. The Sabres finished 30th in the League standings last season and are in the midst of a franchise rebuild. They will be giving a number of young prospects a chance to make the team, including Sam Reinhart, Nikita Zadorov, Joel Armia, Jake McCabe and Rasmus Ristolainen.
Working with so many young players is a job Trottier certainly is qualified for.
Since he was fired by the New York Rangers in January 2003 after 54 games, Trottier has been living in Pittsburgh and working with area players.
"We just developed a little bit of a routine around Pittsburgh with some of the local kids. Touching base with them, just kind of staying the course and watching their progress," Trottier said. "I really enjoyed that. The fun thing is nobody said, 'Here's a paycheck.' It was really just to keep sharp. They're young kids who were just good students and wanted to soak up as much as they could."
Trottier ended his 18-season playing career with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was a member of six Stanley Cup-winning teams, four with the Islanders and two with the Penguins, and finished his career with 524 goals and 1,425 points, which ranks 16th in NHL history.
He shifted quickly from player to coach after retiring in 1994. He spent three seasons as an assistant coach with the Penguins and then became the head coach of the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League for one season. He returned to the NHL as an assistant with the Colorado Avalanche and was part of their Cup-winning team in 2001.
Then came his brief but turbulent time leading a struggling Rangers team. Frustrated and burned out after almost three decades in the NHL, Trottier stepped away.
"I took some time off," Trottier said. "In reflection, I didn't want to be a head coach anymore. When you're a head coach you have to have a different demeanor and I just don't have that demeanor. I want to be a teacher and an instructor and a mentor. I want to be those things versus a lot of the other roles a head coach has to play. That's my strength.
"It's sometimes good to find out and say to yourself, 'That's not what I like to do, this is what I really like to do.' So I got into player development with the Islanders and that was a real joy. My son was getting really involved in hockey and baseball and I took a little more time off."
Trottier joined the Islanders as executive director of player development in 2006 and worked with his former team's prospects for four years before walking away. He occasionally communicated with teams about part-time work but mostly was content participating in Islanders and Penguins alumni events and spending time with his family, which now includes grandchildren and a 12-year-old son, Christian, who is a goaltender in a Pittsburgh-area youth hockey league.
Over time, Trottier started to suspect he might be ready to return to an NHL bench. But he didn't know for certain until Nolan called.
"I was knocking on doors and making a few phone calls and getting very limited response back," Trottier said. "I think everybody wanted somebody to be full-time and engaged. I was just enjoying the flexibility of my time. I wasn't looking to do September until June every year. But once I did reflect with my family and Teddy, that was neat."
After more than a decade away from the daily grind of the NHL, Trottier admits he's out of practice. But Nolan's overtures and confidence have him excited to be back in the League.
"The groove of being behind a bench is going to be interesting at first, but thank God we have a few exhibition games to get rid of those cobwebs," he said. "Overall the excitement of it all and the freshness and coming back refreshed, all those things are going to be assets. If they come ready to give their best effort in practice and games, good things are going to happen. I'm always looking for results. It's not always on the scoreboard. It's winning and building something."