Lou Lamoriello started the offseason for the New York Islanders with arguably the most surprising move of the offseason thus far. The established executive fired head coach Barry Trotz after four seasons with the team, two of which, saw the Islanders reach the Stanley Cup Semifinal. The decision was controversial but a signal of a big offseason ahead for a team desperate to rebound from a disappointing season where they missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in four seasons.
The offseason is going to be a busy one for the Islanders and one that put Lamoriello directly in the line of fire. Moreover, after firing Trotz, Lamoriello is betting on himself and his reputation in the NHL not only with the next coaching hire but with the offseason and the season that follows.
Lamoriello’s Hiring History
Lamoriello has been a part of front offices in the NHL since 1987 and helped run the New Jersey Devils for 28 seasons. The coaching hires have led to varying degrees of success as the Devils won three Stanley Cup titles under three different head coaches. However, Lamoriello has a unique history of not only finding coaches but letting them go as well, including firing Robbie Florek late in the 1999-2000 season and replacing him with Larry Robinson to not only close out the regular season but lead the team to win the Stanley Cup.
The recent head coaches Lamoriello has hired stand out as the executive has an eye for finding coaching talent. In his final seasons with the Devils, Lamoriello hired Peter DeBoer who was a below .500 head coach with the Florida Panthers. Not only did Deboer lead the Devils to the Stanley Cup Final in that first season but he went on to become one of the prominent head coaches in the NHL with the San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights, leading disciplined but strong offensive teams.
Lamoriello’s hiring history isn’t great. In one decade, the former Devils executive had 10 different head coaches behind the bench, including Lamoriello himself. However, throughout his tenure, he has proven he can find the ideal head coach, with Trotz being the most recent successful hire. The Islanders are going to look different next season and that starts with a new coach to lead the team.
Lamoriello’s Head Coaching Search for the Current Roster
After firing Trotz, Lamoriello interestingly stated that the team needed a new voice, which has many possible implications. It’s possible that Trotz lost the locker room, especially this past season, and hiring from within the origination is still an option. Assistant coach Lane Lambert is poised to become a head coach in the NHL and could help ease the Islanders’ transition in the upcoming seasons as they hope to remain competitive. However, a new voice for Lamoriello might mean more than just another head coach, rather the team needs a shift in its identity.
After the 2021-22 season, where the Islanders went 37-35-10, the team needs to look different on the ice. The Islanders played a slower, and more defensive style of hockey last year, causing the team to be outskated to the puck and overwhelmed by the speed of opponents in all three zones. As a result, it’s likely the team’s next head coach will be offensive-minded and can get the best out of some of the skaters that struggled last season like Mathew Barzal and Oliver Wahlstrom.
Islanders First Round Pick
Following the draft lottery, the Islanders will have the 13th selection in the first round of the NHL entry draft. Ideally, the Islanders would use the pick to acquire a star player as part of a deal that could bring Patrick Kane, Jakub Chychrun, or another talented skater to the roster. Lamoriello hasn’t made many major trades in the past four seasons but when he sees an opportunity to acquire a proven veteran like Jean-Gabriel Pageau or Kyle Palmieri, he’s proven he’ll be willing to move a draft selection if needed.
However, despite the Islanders looking to win now, with a veteran roster that is built to win and make a playoff run next season, the prospect pool is depleted. The Islanders have one of the worst farm systems in the league and there are a few young talented skaters that could impact the roster next season but the team needs more prospects, especially at the forward position. The team will likely look to draft a forward with the 13th selection and the hope is that they can find another Barzal caliber skater, who the team selected with the 15th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
Lamoriello’s draft success with the Islanders hasn’t been great. While center Aatu Raty looks like a promising prospect and could be one of the steals of the 2021 draft, only two of the Islanders’ selections since 2018 have reached the NHL with Noah Dobson and Oliver Wahlstrom. However, Lamoriello had great draft success with the Devils and as in his three seasons in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ front office, including Martin Brodeur, Patrick Elias, Auston Matthews, and Mitch Marner. While he had a limited say in many executive decisions with the Maple Leafs, the three years with the team were some of the best drafting years as well.
Islanders Busy Offseason Ahead
All the pressure is on Lamoriello and in his long-tenured career as an executive, this offseason is the most important in his tenure with the Islanders. Lamoriello has made questionable decisions in the previous two offseason including trading Devon Toews, trading Nick Leddy, leaving Jordan Eberle unprotected in the expansion draft, and signing Zdeno Chara. However, this offseason is the one where he can prove why he is one of the most respected in the NHL and acquire a few star players to not only turn the Islanders around but help them win the Stanley Cup for the first time since the 1982-83 season.
The Islanders for the first time in three years have salary cap space to work with and with a handful of players on the trading block, the team can potentially open up even more cap space. The Islanders need to acquire a star scorer like Johnny Gaudreau, who is a pending free agent and will likely be the most pursued player in free agency throughout the NHL. Likewise, the team needs to upgrade in the defensive unit as Lamoriello hinted the roster needs a two-way defenseman as well as potentially find a puck distributor if they fail to sign a player like Gaudreau.
The Islanders enter this offseason with some glaring weaknesses on the roster. After Trotz was relieved of his duties, all the pressure shifted to Lamoriello to help the team rebound. The established executive has proven he can build championship teams in the past and once again, he faces that obstacle with the Islanders.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink has written for multiple sports blogs and platforms covering the NHL, NFL, MLB, and college sports. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.