Will Barry Trotz become the New York Islanders’ most successful coach since Al Arbour? That’s what Lou Lamoriello had in mind when he signed Trotz to a five-year deal in June, and that is certainly what the fans are hoping will happen. With all the coaching wins he has under his belt, along with a Stanley Cup victory in his back pocket, a better question might be how long will it take for him to earn that distinction?
Trotz brings with him something the last three Isles’ coaches did not have – NHL head coaching experience. For the last ten years, the Islanders have been led by Scott Gordon, Jack Capuano, and Doug Weight. Their experience was gained at either the AHL level (Gordon & Capuano) or as second-in-command in the NHL (Weight). Collectively, they brought zero years of NHL head coaching experience to the job.
Contrast that with Trotz; a real NHL coach with 1,524 games and 762 wins on his résumé. He spent 15 years as the bench boss for the Nashville Predators, taking them from their inaugural year through their early growing pains, then into the playoffs seven times. He followed that up with four years at the helm of the Washington Capitals, leading them to their first Stanley Cup in team history. All that experience is expected to translate into success with the Islanders.
Trotz vs. the Previous Islander Coaches
There are a few ways that Trotz can earn the moniker of most successful coach since Al Arbour. One way would be to amass the most regular season wins. To earn the title that way, Trotz would need to exceed the 227 games won by Jack Capuano during his seven years behind the Islanders bench. (Yes, Jack Capuano has the second most Islander coaching wins behind Al Arbour!) For Trotz to beat that number, he would need to average over 45 wins per season over the course of his five-year contract, or coach longer than five years.
Another way to earn the distinction would be to have the highest point percentage among the coaches. The current leader behind Al Arbour in that category is Peter Laviolette. In his two seasons as an Islander head coach, Laviolette compiled a record of 77 wins, 62 losses, 19 ties, and 6 overtime losses which was good for a points percentage of .546. With a few strong seasons, Trotz could accomplish that in less time than it would take to beat Capuano’s win record.
The surest way to take the title would be by winning in the playoffs. Besides Al Arbour, only two Islander coaches have ever taken the team past the first round. Terry Simpson, who inherited the job directly from Arbour when he decided to step down as coach the first time, did it in the 1987 and Capuano did it more recently when he made it into the second round against the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2016. If Trotz could take the team past the second round of the playoffs, Isles fans would happily refer to him as the most successful coach after Arbour. Of course, actually winning the Stanley Cup would solidify the title without question.
Does Trotz Have the Assets?
The hallmarks of a Barry Trotz-coached hockey game are solid goaltending, tight checking, and defense. During his best years in Nashville, he had Pekka Rinne minding the net and Shea Weber quarterbacking the blue line. When he moved to Washington he had Braden Holtby and John Carlson in those key roles, along with an extra boost from Alexander Ovechkin on offense.
As he starts his tenure with the Islanders, Trotz has Robin Lehner as his starting goaltender and Nick Leddy as his number one defenseman. They do not stack up well in comparison with Renne and Weber, or Holtby and Carlson. Nor do the rest of the Islanders comprise a depth chart to match up with the Predators or the Capitals.
Without additional moves from Lamoriello, Trotz will certainly be challenged to keep the team competitive this season. But his long experience and Cup success give him an edge that no other Islander coach has had coming into the job.
I’m Mike Petersell. I have previously written on workplace learning for Many Ways to Learn. Now I’m covering the NY Islanders for The Hockey Writers.