The New York Islanders’ offseason was expected to be a big one from the moment they missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs. A few weeks in, general manager Lou Lamoriello and the front office surprisingly fired head coach Barry Trotz who led the team to the playoffs in three of his four seasons with the club, including two Stanley Cup Semifinal appearances. Lamoriello acknowledged that the team needed a new voice and hinted at a shift in play from the previous season.
One week after firing Trotz, the Islanders have found their new head coach: they’ve hired former assistant coach Lane Lambert. Hiring Lambert might not have been a shocking or bold hire, but it’s the one that best suits the roster and, at the same time, still hints that the offseason will see a lot of changes. New York has already changed coaches, and the roster will likely look significantly different as well, making the draft and free-agent period a pivotal time for the team.
Islanders Hire From Within
Lambert has been with the Islanders since Trotz was hired in 2018. As the assistant coach, he knows the roster better than anyone and thus will help the team transition from the Trotz era and his style of play into a different, more modern style. Lambert is more than qualified to coach at the NHL level, and there were a handful of teams that would have hired him if the Islanders hadn’t promoted him, making this hire the right one for Lamoriello.
Furthermore, Lambert has experience coaching the Islanders. He filled in for Trotz for three games, starting with a 3-2 overtime win on Jan. 1 against the Edmonton Oilers and capped off with a 2-0 loss to the Washington Capitals on Jan. 15, during a stretch when the team only played three games in two weeks. In those, the Islanders looked like they hadn’t missed a beat and continued to play competitively, notably winning low-scoring games. This hiring ultimately allows the team to transition without losing the elements of his coaching style that made them successful.
Lambert’s Coaching Style
There’s no secret that Lambert has been heavily influenced by Trotz. He’s been an assistant for the club for the past four seasons and was an assistant head coach with the Washington Capitals for four seasons, following Trotz since the 2011-12 season when he was hired by the Nashville Predators. As a result, Lambert coaches with an emphasis on defense and discipline at the blue line, something the Islanders have mastered in recent seasons.
However, Lambert differs from Trotz in a few ways that make him more than just the new voice that Lamoriello was looking for. As a forward during his playing career, the 57-year-old understands the importance of two-way hockey and a more offense-oriented game. Moreover, Lambert has seen the shift in the NHL, with the league playing a faster game that is becoming heavily influenced by quick puck movement and playmakers from the point. The Islanders will still rely on their talented defensemen like Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock to win games, but the offense will improve as well, helping form a more complete team under the new head coach.
Another difference will be how Lambert manages his bench and lines. Trotz was known for coaching a disciplined team, and players who didn’t put in the extra effort or help out on the defensive end were benched. The strong discipline helped the team but ultimately backfired for Trotz, especially when younger skaters like Oliver Wahlstrom saw limited ice time, and the locker room eventually turned on him. It’s unclear whether Lambert will play young players more, but the Islanders will play a more open game, willing to take risks without worrying about being benched.
Lamoriello Plays it Safe
Since Trotz was fired, rumors circulated about who Lamoriello would hire to replace him. The emphasis on a new voice made it seem like the team was looking for a shift in identity and a possible splash hire of known names like Mike Babcock and John Tortorella. However, Lamoriello chose from within the organization, and Lambert might not be the most exciting name available, but he’s the one that will help the club both next season and for the foreseeable future. He isn’t a complete shift in identity but provides that new voice that makes him an ideal hire.
What’s Next For the Islanders
The coaching change got the ball rolling on a crucial offseason. The roster has glaring issues that need to be addressed, particularly a two-way left-side defenseman, a goal scorer, and a puck distributor on the forward unit. The Islanders have the 13th overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft, and Lamoriello could use the selection to try to acquire a proven veteran but also needs to help out the prospect pool, which is one of the worst in the league.
05In the last few seasons, Lamoriello hasn’t made big off-season acquisitions, but the team finally has salary cap space, so this is the off-season to make a big move. The Islanders can turn the roster into one of the best in the NHL in free agency with one or two important moves, and with star players like Johnny Gaudreau, Filip Forsberg, and Kevin Fiala available, the team should be expected to pursue one of them. This is a crucial offseason, and Lamoriello is betting on himself, putting himself directly in the line of fire as he tries to propel the team to a Stanley Cup title.
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Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink writes about the NHL at large and contributes as a weekly guest to The Hockey Writers Podcast. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.