If you were hoping for a little clarity as the Islanders decided to fire coach Barry Trotz on Monday, general manager Lou Lamoriello didn’t have much of a follow-up conference call that took place about a half-hour later. news shocked the hockey world.
Instead, the primary takeaways were as follows:
• The decision was Lamoriello’s and Lamoriello’s alone.
“Did I consult anyone on this decision? The answer is no, “Lamoriello said. “Did I speak to players on this decision? No. I would never even consider thinking of anything like that. This decision is based on the knowledge that I have, the experiences I have had, and also going forward as far as what I think and feel is best for this group to have success. “
• That Trotz had a year left on his contract was not a factor.
“Not at all,” Lamoriello said.
According to The AthleticPierre LeBrun’s, Trotz’s original five-year deal last year was at a $ 4 million salary.
• The Islanders’ failure to meet expectations this season was not the only reason Trotz was let go.
“This decision was just not made on this season,” Lamoriello said in what was probably his most puzzling statement, considering the Islanders were coming off back-to-back trips to the league semifinals, losing both times to the eventual Stanley Cup- champion Lightning.
• There is no timetable to find a new coach, and all of Trotz’s assistant coaches are still on the team, including Lane Lambert, who many believe is ready for a head coaching job.
“Each and every one of our assistant coaches is under contract for next year,” Lamoriello said. “We’ll address everything appropriately and a new coach will have a voice in whatever decisions have to be made, if they are to be made.”
• There was no rift between Lamoriello and Trotz.
At least not according to Lamoriello.
“I spoke to Barry this morning,” he said. “We have, and have, and will always have, a tremendous personal relationship. This is definitely a business decision, as far as hockey and winning. “
But the biggest question – what was the reasoning behind this move? – Was essentially left unanswered than the standard “this group of players needs a new voice” trope that is so regularly uttered in situations like these in professional sports.
Trotz is regarded as one of the league’s best coaches in the NHL. He won a Stanley Cup with the Capitals in 2018 and won five playoff rounds (plus a qualifying round) with the Islanders in his four seasons. If he is not a good enough voice for this team, who could possibly be a better one?
Perhaps it ‘s Lambert, though logic would seem to dictate that if it were, the team would have announced it concurrently with Monday’s news.
That will be answered at some point this offseason, of course. And along with finding a new coach, Lamoriello also has the job to do to the alter the roster. He has said he believes he has the right core in place but touched on what his priorities might be at the end of his call Monday.
“We’d like to improve our defense if we can, as far as offensive,” he said. “If there was a way of making a hockey deal, certainly with our forwards, we would do that. I think what we have to do is get the improvement out of our younger players and also a more complete year out of some of our veterans than we did this year. “
That last nugget could offer insight into how Lamoriello came to the decision regarding Trotz. While young players, like Noah Dobson and Ilya Sorokin, did take huge strides this season, others, like Oliver Wahlstrom, didn’t. Trotz’s handling of Wahlstrom was a particularly hot-button topic throughout the second half, as was the coach’s long leash for veterans who struggled in the early part of the season.
And then there’s the still-young Mathew Barzal. The 24-year-old forward is the most individually talented player on the Islanders’ roster but saw his ice time and role reduced over the second half of the season. He is also eligible to sign a long-term contract extension this summer as a restricted free agent.
A league source with knowledge of the Islanders’ dressing room pushed back on Lamoriello’s assertion that the decision was made without any player input, pointing out that the general manager was sure they were holding the standard individual player meeting immediately after the season.
“When you wait for a week to fire a guy, you obviously hear about the players in their meetings,” the source said. “It wasn’t done right when the season was over. So he took a week, met with the players, and obviously the players’ voices have been heard here and this is the result. “
If the players were really critical of the Trotz after the season, they weren’t the only ones. Trotz himself openly questioned the way he handled the Islanders’ strange circumstances. For example, he wondered if the team would have been better off resting more and less practicing in January, when it had a 13-day span in a game to start the New Year.
He also pondered the Islanders’ style of play, which put him in charge of implementation, holding up better over a period of time, like in the 2020 playoff bubble or the 2021 shortened season.
“The 56-game schedule (in 2021), we probably played 48 playoff- (like) games, hard,” Trotz said. “Eighty-two was a little tougher for us to play that style – that hard, grinding style. And we didn’t have much of a break.
“We had like five mini-training camps. Some of those we probably didn’t need because there was still that mental grind of preparation. We had like a 10-day training camp (in January). Looking back, maybe we should have taken five days off. Sometimes you try to push too hard and you get less done. “
That could have been the case. That style could also lead to frustration in the dressing room and in the postseason meetings. At least some players on the Islanders were not surprised by Monday’s apparent bombshell, according to a league source.
“Is it fun to play that way?” the source said. “Is it fun to have a stick in your lane all the time? You do not play with instinct. It adds up after a while. With his style of play and his structure, you’re either all-in or you’re not. If you ‘re not all-in, it’ s not going to work. It’s as simple as that. “
An Eastern Conference team executive echoed that sentiment.
“When you play the way that the Islanders play, it’s a hard way to play night in and night out, year after year,” the exec said. “It takes incredible discipline. That’s why I think teams that play like that always have to change out a few pieces every year, no matter how successful they are: to bring in a little bit of life into the team.
“They’re a hard team to play against defensively. They do not give you a lot. But it’s also a hard way to play for them, to play that way every night. “
Still, whether the change was necessary behind the bench could be debated. Trotz’s tenure with the Islanders can only be considered a resounding success, and he’ll leave Long Island with his reputation as one of the game’s best head coaches firmly intact. Trotz, 59, is third in NHL history in wins by a coach (914), trailing only Scotty Bowman (1,244) and Joel Quenneville (969). In four seasons under Trotz, the Islanders posted a 152-102-34 record in the regular season and a 28-21 mark in the playoffs. He won the 2019 Jack Adams Trophy as the league’s best coach.
There is already speculation as to where he could end up next, with many suggesting that the Winnipeg Jets would make the most sense. Trotz said after the conclusion of the Islanders’ last game that he was still able to handle a number of personal situations, stemming from the death of his mother in January in Manitoba. He hails from Dauphin, Manitoba, about three hours from Winnipeg.
“He’s a great coach,” the exec said. “He’s a Stanley Cup winner. He is a terrific person. The reality is there is no shame in failing every once in a while. You lose your job because of accountability, expectations, whatever. That ‘s part of our business. The results should really matter to our business. That’s what matters a lot for ownership and general managers like Lou Lamoriello.
“Lou is about accountability, and he missed the playoffs. I think sometimes in our league everybody wants to look at excuses – like, there were injuries, and there was COVID, and there were all these other things. But Lou’s history has been what he’s looking for. And they underachieved. “
From Lamoriello’s perspective, he expects players to respond to whomever he chooses as the 18th head coach in franchise history.
“These kinds of decisions are made for going forward, not backward,” he said. “I think with this group we have, they are right on notice now that the new voice is what is important for us to have success, in my opinion. Unfortunately or fortunately, my opinion is what has made these decisions. “
(Photo of Barry Trotz on the bench with Zach Parise and Oliver Wahlstrom: Dave Reginek / NHLI via Getty Images)
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