Barry Trotz Index: 9 teams facing early season questions
Chris Johnston takes a look around NHL markets where the noise is getting loud, and Barry Trotz's name has been looming in the background. Photo by Corey Sipkin/AP.

For the first time in 25 years, Barry Trotz isn’t working behind a NHL bench.

It’s given the man who has coached more games than everyone but Scotty Bowman and Joel Quenneville a unique perspective on the comings and goings of the league. It’s also caused Trotz's name to circulate repeatedly through the rumour mill because his availability is impossible to ignore in markets where expectations aren’t being met.

"The season’s crazy right now. You look at the NHL right now — obviously some fanbases are going crazy with their teams,” Trotz said last week during an appearance on the Bob McCown Podcast.

He’s developed his own barometer to gauge where a team is at.

The first 10 games of the regular season — a mark most of the league hit in the past week or so — are for figuring out if the group has advanced beyond “summer mode."

"What I mean by that is you can get your team to a certain point where the daily grind is normal and your compete level is at that elite level,” Trotz explained.

He believes the 25- to 30-game mark is roughly where the pretenders get separated from the contenders, making this next month crucial for those who have stumbled slowly out of the gates.

According to Trotz, we’re entering the period when “you find out what your team’s really about.”

With that in mind, here’s a look at where things stand with the head coach in markets where the noise is getting turned up:

Pittsburgh Penguins
Record: 4-6-2

Skinny: The Penguins have dropped seven straight games, picking up just one loser point during a painful stretch where they’ve blown multiple leads. This would typically come with a chorus of chatter about the coach’s job security. Except no one has more actual security than Mike Sullivan. He received a three-year extension from the Penguins' new ownership group over the summer and is under contract through the 2026-27 season. Suffice it to say that “Sully” will be sticking around in Pittsburgh even if his perennial playoff team isn’t able to quickly reverse its fortunes.

Columbus Blue Jackets
Record: 3-9-0

Skinny: This was not meant to be a playoff year in Columbus. Still, Brad Larsen finds himself in a tough spot. His Blue Jackets sport a league-worst minus-25 goal differential, and they’ve been getting the doors blown off of them. The scores during their current five-game losing streak tell the story: 5-1, 6-3, 7-1, 4-0 and 6-3. Larsen is just starting his second year as the head coach in Columbus after serving seven seasons as an assistant. He’s not someone management would be eager to replace, but they may be forced to stem the bleeding if the team doesn’t start playing closer to its potential after returning home from the Global Series games in Finland.

St. Louis Blues
Record: 3-7-0

Skinny: The Blues last won a game on Oct. 22, and the ensuing two and a half weeks have been choppy. General manager Doug Armstrong held a candid session with reporters where he mused about having to entertain a rebuild if things didn’t improve. Captain Ryan O’Reilly offered multiple scathing critiques of his own play. And still the losses continue mounting. For as much success as this Blues team has enjoyed under head coach Craig Berube, including a Stanley Cup win in 2019, patience has to be running thin. He may not be the problem, but a change behind the bench could still end up becoming the solution if the ship isn’t righted.

Ottawa Senators

Skinny: D.J. Smith got a vote of confidence from Pierre Dorion on Monday even if the general manager didn’t want it termed as such in his availability with reporters. “Pierre Dorion is very loyal,” Dorion said. “D.J. has done a good job and he’s shown that he can win.” It only became a question because Ottawa is mired in a five-game losing streak that arrived immediately after a four-game winning streak. There are big expectations for the first time in Smith’s four years behind the Senators bench and those come with increased scrutiny on performance. His team is expected to play meaningful games into March and it's already sputtering in November. One positive amid the recent struggles is the fact Ottawa maintains an even goal differential – suggesting that they’ve been a little unfortunate to have already taken on so much water.

Ex-Maple Leafs assistant D.J. Smith is now in his fourth year leading the Senators. And for the first time, expectations are high in the capital city. Photo by Justin Tang/CP.

Vancouver Canucks
Record: 3-6-3

Skinny: The enthusiasm that greeted Bruce Boudreau’s arrival in Vancouver is completely gone less than a year later. The veteran coach doesn’t appear long for his job. Not only is Boudreau working on a contract that expires at season’s end, he’s been unable to coax anywhere near the same level of success out of the Canucks roster in Year 2. There is immense dissatisfaction at the top levels of the organization and some of it falls directly under Boudreau’s purview. Consider this comment from president Jim Rutherford during a Monday appearance on Fan 650 radio in Vancouver: “At this point I would have expected better. I didn’t like our training camp and we continued into the early part of the season the same way as our training camp was. There’s a lot of things that have to happen, but in order for us to become a better team we have to play with a stronger system and really be more accountable for some of the things that some of the players are struggling with.”

Anaheim Ducks
Record: 4-8-1

Skinny: The rebuilding Ducks are in their first full season under general manager Pat Verbeek and their fourth season with head coach Dallas Eakins. And Eakins is only under contract until June 30. The biggest question here is what he needs to do to earn the faith of the new administration — and what he reasonably can do given his roster. The Ducks have actually steadied themselves somewhat after a 1-6-1 start, but Eakins could find himself on shaky ground if they endure a prolonged losing streak. It’s a tenuous spot.

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Nashville Predators
Record: 5-6-1

Skinny: The Predators had dropped seven of eight before pulling out victories in Calgary and Vancouver last week. That should ease some tension. They are in Year 4 under head coach John Hynes and are expecting to maintain the standard that’s seen them qualify for the playoffs (or the 2020 COVID qualifying round) for eight consecutive seasons. This also happens to be the city where Trotz made his coaching name and still calls home.

Washington Capitals
Record: 6-6-2

Skinny: Perhaps a surprise inclusion on this list given Peter Laviolette’s stature and long track record of success, but it’s notable that he’s working on an expiring contract. The veteran coach is shouldering a heavy load, too, with core pieces Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson unavailable due to injury. Still, the Capitals expect to compete and they’ve dropped five of the last seven games. The seat may not be red hot just yet, but it’ll get there if they find themselves playing catch-up in the Metropolitan Division playoff race come December.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Skinny: The only team included here that currently has more wins than losses – a testament to the prevailing temperature in a white-hot hockey city. Sheldon Keefe’s group quieted a stampede of speculation with three consecutive wins last week, but they’re still facing a busy November schedule while nursing injuries to their top two goaltenders. No one should be comfortable. Keefe’s career .674 points percentage would come with huge job security in most situations, but this isn’t just any old year for the Leafs. Any noticeable slippage in play will bring renewed focus on his employment status.

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