- The Washington Times - Friday, May 25, 2018

Capitals coach Barry Trotz estimated he has received about 300 text messages since his team advanced to the Stanley Cup Final with a Game 7 win Wednesday over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Some of them were from people he hadn’t heard from in “a while.”

“I’ve got a lot more friends than I thought I did, which is good,” Trotz said.

Trotz, though, seemed appreciative. This postseason, the 55-year-old has admitted he’s more relaxed than he used to be. While he’s kept the details private, he said experiences in his personal life have put the game of hockey in perspective.

In the last year of his contract, Trotz has responded with the best season of his career.

On Monday, he’ll coach in his first Stanley Cup Final when the Capitals take on the Vegas Golden Knights.

General manager Brian MacLellan said Friday that Trotz‘ contract situation won’t be addressed before the end of the season.

But Trotz is now in a good position to see a significant raise from his annual $1.5 million salary. The question becomes: will that come from the Capitals or another team?

“He’s probably going to benefit from this too,” MacLellan said. “It’s not all not good for him. I think he’s done a good job managing it. To come in this year with so many questions — not from my point of view, the lineup questions were that big a deal — but just the emotional state of our team coming in to start the year and how to handle that, I think he’s done an outstanding job.”

Entering the season, the Capitals were coming off a devastating second-round exit to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Washington also lost six key contributors in the offseason because of salary cap constraints and the expansion draft.

Still, the Capitals finished atop the Metropolitan Division, overcame a .500 start and are the furthest they’ve been in the playoffs in 20 years. Trotz has credited the group, though he gave players more space to start the year. He pulled in the reins in mid-November, following consecutive blowout losses in Nashville and Colorado.

During the playoffs, Trotz has remained loose — despite numerous obstacles like facing elimination in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He drew laughs after taking the team’s hot lap in Tampa prior to Game 7.

He has appeared to make the right strategic moves, as well. He went back to goaltender Braden Holtby after Philipp Grubauer struggled in the first two games of the playoffs. Andre Burakovsky was re-inserted into the lineup after being a healthy scratch in Game 5 of the Lightning series. Burakovsky then scored two goals in Game 7.

“They are a grind. But they’re fun,” Trotz said of the postseason. “And they should be treated as fun. They’re sort of all the hard that you have to put in just to get there and it takes even more hard work to go farther, but it is fun. I’m finding I’m having a blast during the games.”

Trotz has said he isn’t concerned about his contact. He told the Washington Times in March that “I’ve been doing this too [expletive] long to worry about it.”

He said then if he’s not brought back, “I’ll move on. So be it.”

“He’s basically becoming a free agent as a coach, and what effect does that have?” MacLellan said. “Do you have your best year when you’re a free agent? I think we’ve had a couple of those guys. … They have maybe some pressure, but some of them don’t feel pressure to perform in their free agent years.”

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