Barry Trotz joined one of the most exclusive lists in NHL history tonight, becoming just the fifth head coach to win 500 games with the same team. Trotz joins his colleague Lindy Ruff and Hockey Hall of Famer Toe Blake as the only men to win 500 games in their first coaching jobs; Ruff is currently with the Buffalo Sabres and Toe Blake served as bench boss for the Montreal Canadiens of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Chicago Blackhawks legend Billy Reay and Hockey Hall of Famer Al Arbour of the NY Islanders round out the unique quintet to coach 500 wins with one team.
"There's a trust and an understanding that we're trying to do something together," Trotz said of the team's success under his watch. "It's not something as an individual, it's something we're trying to do as a group; a family, organization, a team -- a true team instead of individuals, and I think that's why it works."
As is his personality, Coach Trotz tends to downplay the accomplishment, but this milestone is a big deal. Players draw ceremonies when they reach 1000 games played and 1000 career points, but over 275 players have surpassed the 1000-games mark and more than 75 have scored over 1000 career points. To put some historical perspective on the magnitude of the accomplishment Coach Trotz just reached... … six NHL players have scored over 700 goals … seven NHL players have scored over 1700 points … 24 NHL players have won at least six Stanley Cup championships … 25 players are members of the “Triple Gold” club (winners of a Stanley Cup title, an Olympic Gold Medal, and a World Championship Gold Medal)
It is a daunting task for a head coach to win 500 games with the same team. Scotty Bowman, the NHL’s all-time wins leader with 1244, won over 400 games with both Montreal (in the ‘70s) and Detroit (in the ‘90s and early ‘00s), but never hit the 500 mark with either franchise. Dick Irvin, Sr, the long-time NHL Wins leader until surpassed by Bowman, coached three teams to rack up his 692 wins, but never approached 500 with one team. Pat Quinn, fourth on the all-time wins list, is one of the most respected and successful coaches of the post-expansion era NHL. He was tabbed by Hockey Canada to run the bench for Canadian National Team at some of the most important tournaments, including the 2002 Winter Olympics where he led Canada to the Gold Medal for the first time in 50 years. Quinn compiled his 684 career NHL wins over five stops, but maxed out at 300 wins during his tenure in Toronto.
"Putting on my old coaching hat, it's impressive to see Trotzy reach 500 with an expansion team," Preds TV analyst Terry Crisp, a Stanley Cup champion as both a player and coach during his career, said. "The loyalty and stability between Trotzy and David Poile is amazing in sports today. Even during the early years there was never a time when they seemed adrift; everything always seems calm with them. Nobody ever jumped ship. That's a big reason why they've been able to stay together so long and have so much success."
To Crisp's point, Trotz’s run to 500 might be the most impressive of the quintet. Trotz took on an expansion team as his first NHL job. Coaches don't usually don't have this run of longevity in their first jobs and expansion coaches don't usually get to stick around long enough to see the fruits of their labor. Prior to Trotz, no coach of an NHL expansion team had ever coached 500 games, let alone win that many; Terry Crisp, in fact, held the previous record having served as the Head Coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning for that franchise’s first 391 games. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Trotz is one of only seven coaches in North American pro sports to ever lead a team for each of its first 13 seasons of existence, joining the likes of Paul Brown (Cleveland-NFL), Curly Lambeau (Green Bay-NFL), Tom Landry (Dallas-NFL), Connie Mack (Oakland-MLB), Lester Patrick (NY Rangers-NHL), and Hank Stram (Kansas City-AFL/NFL), all of whom enjoy legendary status in their respective sports.
“I think 500 wins for any coach is a fabulous milestone,” Nashville Predators President of Hockey Operations/General Manager David Poile said. “For an expansion team, and for the first coach in an expansion team’s history, it is a milestone that may stand the test of time. Given how volatile the business of sports is, I’m not sure anybody in any sport will ever be able to do this again.”
Ruff had played 10 seasons with the Sabres, serving as team captain from 1986-89; while being a first time head coach, he entered the job with name recognition and cache in the Buffalo market. Blake, dealing with the Montreal mecca, took over a team only three years removed from a Stanley Cup title and promptly won the Cup in his first five seasons behind the bench. Arbour and Reay coached under the media scrutiny of New York and Chicago, but each had previous NHL Head Coaching experience before getting those gigs, key learning experiences they were able to carry over to their new jobs. Reay served as Toronto’s head coach for two seasons before getting the Chicago job and Arbour had been bench boss in St. Louis before the Islanders handed him the reigns.
“You grow up admiring those guys when you start coaching. To be on the same list as them, it really seems awkward." Trotz said. "Awkward, that’s probably the best way I can say it; you look at the names and they are Hall of Fame people, legendary names."
And as the next wave of young coaches enter into the league they'll look across the bench and think the same thing about Trotz. But in the meantime, Trotz shows no signs of slowing down. Under his leadership the Preds have won 40-or-more games in each of the last seven seasons. And this year, expectations for the team are at an all-time high, with a talented team that ranks among the youngest in the league.