It got awfully dark around here Friday, with Environment Canada warning of the potential for explosive storms in the region. But there was no evidence to suggest the sky was falling, even though it certainly felt that way when it comes to the Winnipeg Jets.
A miserable week surrounding the hockey club was capped off with the ultimate gut punch — prized target Barry Trotz told True North, "Thanks, but no thanks," about the vacant head coaching job. The 59-year-old from Dauphin has decided to take at least a year off from behind an NHL bench to spend more time with family.
It was a stunning development. The Jets desperately wanted Trotz, believing he was the perfect fit to get them back to being a legitimate Stanley Cup contender while also giving the organization and its fan base a much-needed jolt. They were willing to throw everything his way, including loads of money to work in his home province, all kinds of power and control and even a future job in management.
It still wasn’t enough. And #TrotzWatch ends with a whimper, rather than a bang.
"If I’d said I’ll take the job, I think I would have done any team a little bit of a disservice and myself a disservice because to be a coach in the NHL, it is demanding and it requires your all. It just does, emotionally it just does, mentally it just does. So I couldn’t go down that path," Trotz told NHL.com on Friday afternoon.
Spin it any way you’d like, but it’s hard not to view this as a rebuke of the Jets organization. Don’t forget, Trotz had every intention of working next year, as he was under contract to the New York Islanders until Lou Lamoriello decided to fire him last month. Clearly, he wasn’t buying what Winnipeg was selling. The longer this dragged on, the more that became apparent. He would apparently prefer to sit on the sidelines — collecting US$4 million, mind you, still coming his way as part of the final year of his previous contract — before deciding his next move.
"It doesn’t mean I’m not going to coach, just not going to coach right now," Trotz explained. "I’ve been doing this for 25 straight years and I’ve put a lot of stuff on the back burner and I think it’s time. The one thing I do know, and it’s a mistake that everybody makes, is you think you have time and you don’t. And so this is my time when I can get to a lot of things I’ve put on the back burner. I have to take care of those, for peace of mind for everything so I will be 100 per cent in if I get back into it and I’ll be a better coach for it."
To be clear, Trotz spurned other offers around the league, and had plenty of praise for Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and the ownership group. His official explanation for turning down the job is essentially, "It’s not you, it’s me." And I suppose this is easier to digest for the team and its fans than had he gone to work for a competing organization.
But it’s still going to leave a mark, especially given other recent events that surely have plenty of people around the NHL wondering, "What the heck is going on in Winnipeg right now?"
The Trotz news came on the heels of Pierre-Luc Dubois deciding he would prefer to test unrestricted free agency in two years rather than sign a long-term extension, Blake Wheeler reportedly being open to waiving his no-trade clause, and the future of malcontent Mark Scheifele still very much in doubt.
To summarize: the team still has no coach, the captain may be on the move, and the top two centres could soon be searching for greener grass, too.
When it rains, it pours.
Now, the organization is left to pick up the pieces and quickly try to put together a Plan B, one that has very much been hampered by playing the waiting game. Since first interviewing Trotz last month, mere days after he was sent to the unemployment line, eight other teams have hired coaches.
Montreal (Martin St. Louis), New York (Lane Lambert), Vegas (Bruce Cassidy), Philadelphia (John Tortorella), Dallas (Pete DeBoer), Edmonton (Jay Woodcroft), Florida (Paul Maurice) and Chicago (Luke Richardson) have all filled vacancies. That leaves just Winnipeg, Boston and Detroit to pick through a diminished pool of candidates.
Current St. Louis assistant coach Jim Montgomery, who previously led the Dallas Stars, is among the other names that have come up in recent weeks surrounding the Jets. He would likely go to near the top of a revamped list. Scott Arniel (assistant with Washington), Pascal Vincent (assistant with Columbus) and Alain Vigneault (free agent) are three others with previous ties to the organization.
Looking at potential candidates with no links, the Jets would be wise to bring Andrew Brunette in for an interview ASAP. Fresh off leading the Florida Panthers to the Presidents Trophy for best regular-season record, he was made the scapegoat for a second-round sweep at the hands of Tampa Bay. Wouldn’t it be something if the guy replaced this week by Maurice ended up taking the job in Winnipeg previously held by Maurice? You can bet Brunette has a chip the size of a buffalo on his shoulder right now given the way he was treated.
Calgary assistant Kirk Muller and two other former head coaches in Mike Babcock and Rick Tocchet are others churning through the rumour mill.
By going all-in on Trotz, the Jets will now be in scramble mode to find a suitable second choice. It’s fair to wonder if the coaching search going in another direction ultimately takes the short-term plan on a detour as well.
With Trotz, the Jets were clearly going to be in "win-now" mode, but if they bring in a younger, less experienced voice, is it possible they choose to pivot when it comes to roster decisions, including ones surrounding long-time core players such as Wheeler and Scheifele? And, if so, is this market willing to exercise that kind of patience, coming off a season in which Winnipeg missed the playoffs for the seventh time in 11 years?
Time is of the essence. The NHL draft, where ideally you would have a new staff in place, is 12 days away. Free agency, where you absolutely need a solid foundation in place in order to make pitches to potential players, begins in 18 days. The clock is ticking louder with each passing day.
It’s important to remember there are still good pieces within the organization and it’s not all gloom and doom. At some point, a new coach will be hired, roster decisions will be sorted out and, yes, the sun will come back out.
But based on what went down Friday, it’s fair to say the forecast for the franchise is cloudy at best right now.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.