- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 25, 2018

On Monday in New York, the Washington Capitals will present Barry Trotz, Lane Lambert and Mitch Korn their Stanley Cup rings.

Then, they’ll take the ice and play against Trotz’s New York Islanders — the first time Trotz has been behind a bench opposite Washington’s since they won the Cup together.

Though the pre-game ceremony might provide an awkward moment of a coach warmly greeting his opponent and receiving a gift of jewelry, the game itself promises some top-flight hockey. The Capitals (29 points) are riding a season-high five-game winning streak and just took over first place in the Metropolitan Division for the first time this year.

The Islanders (26 points) have found their way under Trotz despite failing to retain top center John Tavares in free agency. New York has won four of its last six.

It was just five months ago that the Capitals’ Stanley Cup parade had wound down and fans’ focus turned to whether Trotz, whose contract was expiring, would be extended. But a clause in his deal that had been kept secret from the public offered Trotz a two-year extension and a modest raise for winning the Cup.

Trotz believed he deserved more and submitted his resignation. General manager Brian MacLellan later made clear the organization’s philosophy was not to spend big on coaches.

“I don’t think all teams pay that type of money and years (for coaches),” MacLellan said at the time. “Certain teams are open to it and the rest of the league isn’t.”

In came the Islanders. They were the only NHL team with a vacancy at head coach at the time, and Trotz’s shocking resignation meant he fell into their laps. It was rumored that Trotz also had discussions with Seattle’s soon-to-be-confirmed expansion team, as he was seen in Seattle’s airport, but he signed up with the Islanders and president and general manager Lou Lamoriello, a respected figure in the sport.

Trotz called his summer “daunting.”

“I know it can be a fairly quick fix if you get your culture and your structure and the right people in the right seats,” Trotz told USA Today.

When the Islanders earlier this season visited the Nashville Predators, the team Trotz coached before Washington, the coach reportedly wanted to win bad. Islanders forward Cal Clutterbuck told Newsday that Trotz had “mentioned” his history with Nashville “a couple times” prior to the game.

Trotz spent 15 seasons coaching Nashville, but his four years in Washington were more recent and memories of his Stanley Cup victory add to the attachment.

On the flip side, players still appreciate the relationships they had with Trotz. Travis Boyd dressed as Trotz for the team’s Halloween party, and they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

The ties run deep. Lambert and Korn left the Capitals to work for Trotz as New York’s associate coach and director of goaltending, respectively. Todd Reirden, Trotz’s associate coach and protege, stayed behind and succeeded him in Washington.

“I’m extremely proud to be a part of helping Barry Trotz, a man who’s coached for many years, be able to finally put that Stanley Cup over his head,” Reirden said when he was introduced as head coach.

The Capitals have been busy — Monday will be their third game in four days and they even practiced on Thanksgiving — and haven’t had much time to reflect on the “Trotz game,” but a few players have offered some praise for the old coach.

“From the time he got here, he really put his due diligence into our team and helped us achieve our goal that we were starving for,” defenseman John Carlson told NHL.com. “As a team, he brought a lot of core values that we grew into and grew from.”

• Adam Zielonka can be reached at azielonka@washingtontimes.com.

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