Trottier grew up in a small town called Val Marie, Saskatchewan, Canada, located between Swift Current and the Montana border with his parents and four siblings. Growing up in the 1960's, Trottier wanted to be like his idol Jean Béliveau. When he was learning to skate, his father would clear out the dam on the creek across their home with a machete, to create a surface to practice on. Trottier has one older sister, Carol, and three younger siblings, Kathy, Monty and Rocky. Monty played professional minor league hockey, and Rocky played in 38 games for the New Jersey Devils.
Trottier claims that without his friend Tiger Williams, he would have dropped out of hockey due to homesickness. Trottier and Tiger became best friends due to the special bond they built early on in their careers/academy.
Nicknamed "Trots," Trottier was drafted in the second round, 22nd overall, by the New York Islanders in the 1974 NHL Entry Draft, the team he played his first 15 seasons in the NHL with. He set an NHL rookie record of 95 points and won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL's rookie of the year in 1975–76, though the record was later broken by Peter Šťastný of the Quebec Nordiques in 1980–81.
Trottier's best offensive season was 1978–79 when he scored 134 points, earning him the Art Ross Trophy as the League's top scorer, as well as the Hart Memorial Trophy as NHL MVP. In winning the Art Ross, he became the first player from a post-Original Six expansion team to win the award. In that same season, he led the NHL in assists with 87, which he had also done the year before with 77.
Trottier was one of the core players on the Islanders' dynasty teams from the 1980s. He won four Stanley Cups during his time with the Islanders from 1980 to 1983. During New York's first Stanley Cup in 1980, he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. In 1981–82, Trottier scored 50 goals, the highest single-season total of his career.
During the early 1980s, when Wayne Gretzky set numerous scoring marks, Islanders broadcaster Stan Fischler and head coach Al Arbour nonetheless maintained that Trottier was the league's best player over Gretzky. Trottier was described as a forward possessing an all-around game including ruggedness and defensive responsibility, and there have been comparisons to Milt Schmidt and Gordie Howe. Arbour stated, "Gretzky is an offensive genius for sure. But at this stage Trots gives you more things. Defensively, he's outstanding. And he's physically tough. He comes up with his 100 points a year, automatically, along with everything else!"
Trottier was often referred to as the "glue" on the Islanders team, centering his fellow stars Clark Gillies and Mike Bossy on a line known as "The Trio Grande." While the 1977–78 season was Bossy's rookie year, the Trio Grande at one point led the NHL in scoring above the top lines of the Montreal Canadiens and the Colorado Rockies. Other linemates that played with Trottier included John Tonelli, Bob Bourne and Bob Nystrom. Trottier, however, was most known for his dynamic on-ice partnership with Mike Bossy during his prime years with the Islanders until Bossy's early retirement at the end of the 1987 season.
Undaunted by heavy criticism from fellow Canadians, Trottier chose to play for the United States in the 1984 Canada Cup tournament, after having previously represented Canada in 1981, because he wanted to pay back the country in which he lived and because his wife was American. He was able to obtain the necessary U.S. citizenship in July 1984 because he had Métis ancestry on his father's side (Cree/Chippewa). His North American Indian Card (for which he qualified because his grandmother was a Chippewa) entitled him to citizenship in both the U.S. and Canada, as well as a U.S. passport, which was all he needed for tournament eligibility.
Unlike other star centermen, longevity was not Trottier's hallmark. Following his 13th season, his skills seemed to deteriorate precipitously, decreasing from 82 points in 1988 to 45 points just one year later, and 24 points in 1990. After that low output, Islanders management released Trottier from his contract, believing that his best years were behind him and that younger centers such as Pat LaFontaine and Brent Sutter should get his ice time. He ranks second in Islanders history in goals, and first in assists and points. It could be noted, however, that even as Trottier's scoring declined, he remained a strong defensive player and team leader.
The Pittsburgh Penguins signed Trottier as a free agent to provide experience and leadership to a young team. He won the Stanley Cup for the fifth and sixth times with Pittsburgh in 1991 and 1992, respectively. Trottier took the 1992–93 season off, returning to the Isles in a front office capacity, but financial troubles, stemming from poor investments, forced Trottier to return to the ice with the Penguins for the 1993–94 season. He retired again following a disappointing final season where he scored just four goals in 41 games. At the time of his retirement, his point total ranked sixth in NHL history.
Following his retirement, Trottier played for the Pittsburgh Phantoms of the Roller Hockey International league in its 1994 season.
Trottier was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1997.
After many of his Islander teammates, including linemates Mike Bossy and Clark Gillies, were honored by the Islanders organization by having their numbers retired, Trottier was expected to be next; his number 19 was eventually raised to the rafters on October 20, 2001.
On March 4, 2006, the Islanders celebrated the 26th anniversary of the team's first Stanley Cup championship. Trottier, apparently forgiven for his stint with the rival New York Rangers, was given one of the largest ovations of the evening. He gave a familiar salute to the fans who lined up to watch a pre-game "Walk of Champions" entering the building, raising both hands high above his head, reminiscent of his days playing on the Island where he would do the same to the fans cheering him on. On June 1, 2006, Trottier returned to the Islanders as the team's executive director of player development.
Trottier is currently ranked 16th all-time in NHL regular season points, having been passed by Jaromír Jágr and Joe Sakic during the 2005–06 season, Mark Recchi in 2008–09 and Teemu Selänne in 2012–13. He is ninth all-time in playoff points and remains the Islanders' all-time leader in assists and points. Trottier was named by Islanders fans as the second greatest player in franchise history, ahead of Denis Potvin and behind Mike Bossy.
Early on in Trottier's life, his mother, Marry Trottier, taught him an important lesson that would establish who he is. At a young age, Trottier faced discrimination and racism due to his native heritage. Trottier was called offensive things such as "half-breed". His mother's lesson to be proud of his native heritage is the reason that during his hall of fame induction speech, he decided to bring light to the issue. Trottier now travels to aboriginal communities and teaches kids about his heritage, and shares why it is special to be confident in today's world as an aboriginal. He believes that teaching them leadership skills and the ability to believe in who they are is vital for success in any field they choose to be in.
After serving as an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins until 1997, he took a similar position with the Colorado Avalanche, where he won his seventh career Stanley Cup in 2001. He was named as head coach of the New York Rangers in 2002, much to the ire of Islander fans. However, his brief stint with the Rangers lasted only 54 games, slightly longer than the halfway mark of the season. In addition to receiving criticism from Isles fans who labeled him a traitor, he drew the rage of Ranger fans as well, who felt he misused his offensively-gifted players—such as Eric Lindros and Pavel Bure—by having them play the neutral-zone trap (a defensive tactic used to slow down the opponent, but also limiting the user's offensive chances). At the time of his dismissal at the hands of General Manager Glen Sather, Trottier had coached 54 games, posting a 21–26–6–1 record and a 45.4 winning percentage. On July 29, 2014, Trottier was hired as an assistant coach for the Buffalo Sabres.
Steve Yzerman, who was also renowned for his strong two-way play, considered Trottier his favourite player, donning the number 19 in honour of Trottier.
Of Trottier's 18 seasons in the NHL, he missed taking part in the post-season only once in 1988–89 after his Islanders team failed to qualify for the playoffs. Trottier sits 11th all-time with 184 playoff points on the strength of 71 goals (tied for 16th) and 113 assists (15th) in 221 games played (10th). As of the end of the 2012–13 season, there are no active NHL players in the top 25 all-time in playoff points to challenge Trottier's position. His 184 playoff points puts Trottier between two great players from the Detroit Red Wings, Steve Yzerman just ahead of him with 185 points, and Nicklas Lidström just one behind at 183 points.
As a child, Trottier played for the Climax Hockey Team in Climax, Saskatchewan, and as a minor hockey player he played for the Swift Current Broncos.
Trottier has four children: Bryan Jr., Lindsey, Tayler and Christian.Member of seven Stanley Cup winning teams: 1980, 1981, 1982 and 1983 with the New York Islanders, and 1991 and 1992 with the Pittsburgh Penguins and 2001 with the Colorado Avalanche ;
Selected to nine NHL All-Star Games: 1976, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986 and 1992;
Selected to two NHL First All-Star Teams: 1978 and 1979;
Selected to two NHL Second All-Star Teams: 1982 and 1984;
Calder Memorial Trophy winner: 1976;
Art Ross Trophy winner: 1979;
Hart Memorial Trophy: 1979;
Conn Smythe Trophy: 1980;
King Clancy Memorial Trophy: 1989;
Recipient of the National Aboriginal Achievement Award, now the Indspire Awards, in the sports category: 1998.
Most career games (Islanders) – 1,123;
Most career points (Islanders) – 1,353;
Most career assists (Islanders) – 853;
Most points in a season (Islanders) – 134 in 1978–79, surpassed by Mike Bossy (147 in 1981–82);
Most assists in a season (Islanders) – 87 in 1978–79;
Fastest player in NHL history to reach 400 points – 296 games, surpassed by Mike Bossy (283 games) and currently held by Wayne Gretzky (197 games);
Fastest player in NHL history to reach 500 points – 362 games, surpassed by Mike Bossy (349 games) and currently held by Wayne Gretzky (234 games);
Fastest player in NHL history to reach 600 points – 435 games, surpassed by Mike Bossy (400 games) and currently held by Wayne Gretzky (274 games);
Fastest player in NHL history to reach 700 points – 506 games, surpassed and currently held by Wayne Gretzky (317 games);
Fastest player in NHL history to reach 200 assists – 253 games, surpassed and currently held by Wayne Gretzky (165 games);
Fastest player in NHL history to reach 300 assists – 343 games, surpassed and currently held by Wayne Gretzky (229 games);
Youngest player in NHL history to score 200 goals (24 years, 98 days) until he was surpassed by Mike Bossy (23 years, 315 days);
Youngest player in NHL history to score 300 points (22 years, 102 days) until he was surpassed by Wayne Gretzky (20 years, 68 days);
Youngest player in NHL history to score 400 points (22 years, 239 days) until he was surpassed by Wayne Gretzky (20 years, 335 days);
Youngest player in NHL history to score 500 points (23 years, 208 days) until he was surpassed by Wayne Gretzky (21 years, 52 days);
Youngest player in NHL history to score 600 points (24 years, 187 days) until he was surpassed by Wayne Gretzky (21 years, 330 days);
Youngest player in NHL history to score 700 points (25 years, 190 days) until he was surpassed by Wayne Gretzky (22 years, 62 days);
Youngest player in NHL history to score 800 points (26 years, 162 days) until he was surpassed by Wayne Gretzky (22 years, 325 days);
Youngest player in NHL history to score 900 points (27 years, 149 days) until he was surpassed by Wayne Gretzky (23 years, 47 days).