It’s a pretty easy narrative to create around Barry Trotz. He shows up to your team, you become very hard to beat, he gets results, but there’s a limit to it. And there’s an even stricter limit on the entertainment value of your team. The former limit got blown apart with the Capitals’ Cup win two years ago. But then the Caps perhaps didn’t think that much of it, or Trotz’s part in it to be more specific, opting to let Trotz walk to the Islanders right afterward.
The idea has always been that Trotz will make you defensively solid, and with that base you can only ever be so bad and it’s not that hard to be good. But…is that really what’s happening? Let’s look.
In Trotz’s two seasons on The Island/Brooklyn, the Islanders have only been a middling to ok defensive team. They’re 18th in attempts against over these two campaigns, 10th in shots-against, 12th in xGA against. They are third in scoring-chances against, so they limit those well. But what they do lead in by some margin is save-percentage, at .935 at even-strength over this season and a half. So that’s what they do exceedingly well.
In Trotz’s last two seasons in Washington, the Caps were 8th in attempts-against, seventh in shots-against, but 19th in xGA against and 20th in scoring chances against. But they were 3rd in save-percentage, at .930. Trotz’s first two seasons in DC, which saw a couple of 100-point seasons and a 120-point season, are a slightly different story: 13th in attempts-against, fifth in shots-against, fifth in xGA, 15th in scoring chances-against, but 15th in save-percentage.
When Trotz washed out of Nashville with two playoff-less campaigns, these rankings stayed just about the same except they had one of the worst save-percentages in the league thanks to Ol’ Shit Hip’s meandering ways at the time. So Trotz does construct defensively sound teams, just not dominating ones. It’s the goalies who seem to thrive. But is that on Trotz or his goalie coach Mitch Korn, who follows him everywhere?
Braden Holtby was good before Trotz and Korn arrived, with a couple of .920 seasons. He became a Vezina winner with them. When he faltered, Philip Grubauer had his best season which earned him a trade to be Colorado’s starter. Tomas Greiss had one .920 season before Trotz and Korn showed up. He now is working on his second consecutive with a Jennings Trophy in the bag. Robin Lehner had flashed before in Ottawa and Buffalo, but then went .930 last year. Semyon Varlamov nearly won a Vezina in Colorado but went up and down with each passing season. He’s at .919 now along with Greiss as the Islanders haven’t really missed Lehner at all.
So is it Korn or Trotz that you’re hiring? Certainly Rinne rebounded post-Trotz, Lehner is doing just fine, and Grubauer is chugging along. Maybe the lessons they learned under Korn stick forever. And if they’re a package deal and they get these results, certainly Trotz and Korn are worth having around.
And it’s unlikely we’ll ever truly know, and Korn isn’t going to go work for someone else. But someone should probably throw a bucket of money at him to be their goalie coach, just like a prized pitching coach. Because goaltending is just as important as pitching, is it not?