Johnson joined Calgary in 1982, soon after Poile left the Flames to run the Washington Capitals. There he found Trotz, a Regina Pats grad, at training camp on a tryout basis, but with no real chance of cracking the NHL lineup. However, Jack Button – father of Craig, then one of the Caps’ most trusted birddogs – saw something in Trotz that he liked and advised him that he had a future in the industry.
So Trotz returned home to Winnipeg and started at the University of Manitoba as an assistant on Wayne Fleming’s staff. Trotz then spent two seasons as head coach and GM of the Dauphin Kings juniors, before returning to the University of Manitoba as their head coach in 1987. The next year, Trotz began to scout Western Canada for the Caps, and who eventually brought him to their AHL affiliate in Baltimore as an assistant coach. From there, the team’s AHL franchise was shifted to Portland, and Trotz was elevated to the head coaching position, which is when Poile recruited him for Nashville.
Trotz remembers when he first received the job, going back to his hotel room to ponder the challenges that lay ahead.
“I thought, ‘I’m a rookie coach in a non-traditional market with an expansion team. Maybe I bit off more than I could chew,’” Trotz said. “That first year, we went into every game and I’d look at the lineup and I’d think, ‘how are we going to win this game?’ I think we won 28. And afterward, I was thinking, ‘how in the world did we ever win 28 games?’ It was a real fun group, and we worked really hard.”
Hard work has been a trademark of the Predators’ organization ever since. Trotz usually gets the most out of the players at his disposal, but he will dispute the widely held notion that his team perennially overachieves. His view is that there is no such thing as overachieving (“other than me marrying my wife,” he quips, sheepishly) because if you ultimately succeed at something, then the goal was always within your grasp.
“I just ask players to play to their potential, and that’s all,” Trotz said. “You want to put people in positions to succeed. What we’ve been able to do is look at a player and say, ‘what is your talent? What is your real talent?’
“Sometimes, there are certain guys that can’t do some things, so you accept them for what they can do and you try to push them closer to what you want them to do and then you try to put them with people that will help them do it.”
According to Poile, what separates Trotz from others caught in the revolving, hired-to-be-fired coaching door is his self-awareness and the fact that “there are no airs about him. There is no vanity. He’s self-deprecating. He’ll poke fun at himself if the situation is there.
“For me, more than anything else, I seized on how good a person he is. That trumps everything.
“Barry’s got a saying and I use it all the time too. He says, ‘always do the right thing.’ That’s what Barry’s always about. He always does the right thing.
“I’m not saying that, like a lot of married couples, there haven’t been highs and lows, on and off the ice, but I’ve never lost belief in Barry and I’ve always trusted in his judgment.”
According to Trotz, Poile deserves credit for not taking the easy way out when those rough patches occurred.
“There’s been times, in the past, when I thought, ‘gawd, I know I’m out of here, I’ve gotta be gone.’ Things were not going good and I knew there were pressures on David, but he’d come in and say, ‘fix it’ and we’d be able to turn it around. David showing just a little extra patience proved to be what we needed, because instead of giving a player or a group an out, he’d allow us to fix it and be stronger on the other end, because you’ve gone through hell a little bit together.