The New York Islanders dropped some difficult news on the hockey world on Monday, announcing head coach Barry Trotz had been relieved of his duties after four seasons. Signed to a five-year deal in the summer of 2018, the Islanders found immediate success under Trotz despite very minimal roster turnover, a trend that continued for three more seasons. And though the final Trotz season (2021-22) didn’t end the way anyone would have hoped, it’s hard to ignore the Islanders’ back-to-back Stanley Cup Semifinal appearances, given what the coach had to work with on the ice. As we all continue to process the news days after the announcement, it’s time to think about what a Post-Trotz era looks like on Long Island.
A New Voice for the Islanders
When general manager Lou Lamoriello announced that Trotz would no longer be the head coach moving forward, citing the need for “a new voice,” it created more questions than answers. Speculation is about as far as anyone can dig into this story, as Lamoriello runs a tight ship. Rumors are popping up about players’ exit interviews, but nothing has been confirmed, to the surprise of no one.
Whether it was discussed directly or it was something Lamoriello saw on the ice over the course of the season is probably irrelevant. As former NHLer Mike Rupp said following the news, “He knows everything from where his players ate last night to how many toilet paper rolls are in the arena.” In short, Lamoriello has a good sense of what his teams need and is no stranger to firing head coaches, something he did eight times in 16 seasons with the New Jersey Devils, winning three Stanley Cups in that time and making other personnel changes.
“I believe this group of players needs a new voice,” Lamoriello said in his press conference on Monday. “I’d rather not get into any of the reasons because that’s my job based upon the information that I have and [my] experience to make these types of decisions.”From, ‘Barry Trotz firing is right out of Lou Lamoriello’s playbook,’ New York Post 5/9/2022
However, there’s one important distinction to make as we evaluate an Islanders’ future in the Post-Trotz Era with whomever this new voice turns out to be. While he certainly put this group on notice for a second time with this firing, the first time being at the trade deadline as he discussed hockey trades coming this summer, Lamoriello is now on the hot seat himself. As many saw before Trotz was let go, this roster cannot look the same when they take the ice next season, and that’s all on Lamoriello.
Islanders’ Lamoriello on the Hot Seat
Under Trotz, the team’s defense-first mentality was something to behold, yielding a lot of success in the coach’s short time on the Island. But as Lamoriello reshapes the roster this offseason, shifting the focus toward offense as he suggested is needed. Not only does that new voice need to reflect that change, but so do his decisions when bringing in — and shipping out — players.
The Islanders accomplished far more than their expectations laid out for them based on their roster, but moving forward, the team needs about as much of an infusion of talent as a team can get. With just one 30-goal-scorer in Brock Nelson to go along with a superstar Mathew Barzal, budding defenseman Noah Dobson, stud defender Adam Pelech, and franchise goaltender Ilya Sorokin, Lamoriello needs to add quite a bit on both ends of the ice to bring this team back into contention even before we see if the roster and the coach are a good match come October.
Lamoriello’s comment about improving their defense “offensively” is a little coded; does he mean adding another offensive defenseman? Does he literally mean puck possession and scoring goals? Likely a little of both, as Dobson needs a partner for the second pair, and Barzal needs a bonafide goalscorer and offensive talent to ride shotgun and bring that first line up to par with the rest of the league. The firing by Lamoriello alludes to the fact he feels the roster he constructed was underachieving and needed a jolt. But the roster as it currently stands simply wasn’t strong enough, though it’s possible Lamoriello didn’t see it that way.
“I think what we have to do is get improvement out of our younger players and also a more complete year out of some of our veterans than we did this year,” Lamoriello said during Monday’s conference call. Is this an out just in case he can’t land the big fish the team really needs this offseason? He struck out on Artemi Panarin a few summers ago, and he could be greasing the skids in case it doesn’t work out again.
There doesn’t appear to be a timetable to find a new head coach for the Islanders, and all of the current assistant coaches are still under contract for next season, according to Lamoriello, including Lane Lambert, who many have pointed out could have left his post this offseason even before Trotz was let go to pursue a head coaching position. Whoever the coach is that Lamoriello brings in, it will be during an enormous offseason of change on Long Island. Between players coming and going and a brand new voice behind the bench, for the first time in nearly half a decade, we’ll see a very different-looking New York Islanders come October.