The New York Islanders fired head coach Barry Trotz after his fourth season with the team, sending shockwaves throughout the NHL. The Islanders were one of the more successful teams in the NHL in the past few seasons, reaching the Stanley Cup Semifinals in 2020 and 2021.
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However, after one disappointing season where the team failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 37-35-10 record, Lou Lamoriello and the front office decided to relieve the veteran coach of his duties. The decision is not only a questionable one but one that can easily backfire considering how Trotz coached the Islanders and helped the team rebound into a successful franchise.
Trotz’s Successful Seasons
Trotz was hired after the Islanders missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons and were coming off a disappointing 2017-18 season where they went 35-37-10. The Islanders also lost their top scorer and arguably best player John Tavares in Trotz’s first offseason with the team, but considering the veteran head coach led the Washington Capitals to the Stanley Cup in the previous season, there was plenty of optimism within the organization.
Trotz not only helped the Islanders rebound but he helped turn the team into a defensive juggernaut. In the 2018-19 season, the team only allowed 2.33 goals per game, a stark contrast from the previous season where they allowed 3.57 goals per game. In four seasons Trotz’s defensive philosophy not only turned the defense around but turned the unit into one of the best in the NHL, with the 2021-22 season being the worst statically for the unit, where the team allowed 2.82 goals per game.
Aside from the team playing good defense, Trotz made the Islanders disciplined and, more importantly, competitive. The Islanders were a matchup nightmare for Eastern Conference opponents as they reached the Stanley Cup Semifinal in 2020 and 2021, the first time the franchise reached the Semifinal since head coach Al Arbour and the 1980s teams. Moreover, the team pushed the eventual back-to-back Stanley Cup Champion, the Tampa Bay Lightning to the brink in 2021 as they forced the series to seven games, with the Lightning advancing with a shutout 1-0 victory. The team was only a few pieces away from winning the first Stanley Cup title since the 1982-83 season and was built to win a championship under Trotz.
Trotz Bringing the Best Out of the Roster
Even in the 2021-22 season, a season where everything that could go wrong for the Islanders did go wrong, the team still played competitively. After a 5-10-5 start to the season where the Islanders dealt with a handful of injuries including the loss of 30-goal scorer Brock Nelson and defenseman Ryan Pulock, and a COVID-19 outbreak, the team turned the season around.
The Islanders won 32 of their final 60 games and finished the season with the ninth-best record in the Eastern Conference. Additionally, the Islanders’ offense, which struggled immensely, became a potent unit, averaging 3.28 goals per game following the All-Star break. The team had its weaknesses, and after a slow start they clearly weren’t a playoff-caliber roster. But, under Trotz, the team still played well and ended the previous season strong.
The Islanders didn’t have the best roster in the Eastern Conference but always played at a high level. On the ice, the team would win loose pucks along the boards, force turnovers in all three zones, and capitalize on opponents that made mistakes. Moreover, the team overachieved in all four seasons of Trotz’s tenure, a testament to the coach behind the bench. The Islanders’ head coach was often forced to bring out the best from a roster that was constructed by the front office with questionable decisions, including trading Devon Toews, leaving Jordan Eberle unprotected in the expansion draft, and signing Zdeno Chara, making the recent firing not only a confusing one, but also one that puts Lamoriello in the line of fire.
What’s Next For the Islanders
Lamoriello indicated that the Islanders are looking for a new voice to coach the team. While it’s possible the Islanders could hire bench coach, Lane Lambert, helping ease the transition, the firing of Trotz suggests a shift in identity within the team.
The Islanders of last season, and in four years under Trotz, were a defensive-minded but also a slower team. While Trotz was successful, a new head coach looks indicative of the direction the NHL is headed and how the Islanders want to play in the future as well. The team is going to try to acquire speed in the offseason to help both the forward and the defensive units and as a result, adapt along with the rest of the league.
Firing Trotz is a surprising and questionable decision that puts even more pressure on the front office. However, the coaching change is only the start of what will be a busy offseason for an Islanders team that is looking to bounce back in the upcoming seasons.