There’s no question that Barry Trotz has a shelf life with any team he coaches. His high-intensity defensive style is never going to be something players are going to want to do year-after-year, especially now when more and more teams are crashing in goals left and right. He was in Nashville forever, but definitely overstayed his welcome. He even won a Cup in D.C., and then was allowed to walk out the second the parade was over. And now he’s out as the New York Islanders coach.
In his last two exits, his contract demands got in the way as well. But when you specialize in maxing the talent on hand and even surpassing what that talent should do, you’re more than entitled to think you should be compensated heavily.
And the funny thing about this season is that it’s actually not all that bad, depending on how you look at it. The Islanders had one less regulation win than the Capitals. They had the same amount of regulation wins as Vegas, and three more than Dallas. And they got those even though their first 13 games were on the road thanks to their arena not being ready. On top of that, the roster was completely torn apart in the winter by COVID. Two players played 80 games or more, and one of them was Zach Parise, so that doesn’t count.
Missing the playoffs by 16 points looks bad, and it is in a lot of ways, but some of that is due to only getting one overtime win, another two wins in the shootout, and losing seven other games after 60 minutes. They didn’t get enough games to overtime to pick up an extra point here and there, but they won enough games in 60 minutes to compete for a playoff spot. Results in OT or in a shootout have nothing to do with structure or coaching. It’s just luck. Split those OT results, get a handful of more games to OT, and the Isles would have been around 94 points or so. Which is usually enough to compete for a playoff spot.
No, the Islanders didn’t score much, 22nd in the league in goals per game. That’s kind of Trotz’s thing. Their metrics weren’t good either, bottom-10 in attempts and expected goals per 60 minutes. But look at this roster. How was it ever going to score enough in a league where the emphasis is becoming more and more on scoring than preventing? No one on this team cracked more than 60 points. Some of that is a backup from Mathew Barzal in his career arc. But Barzal is the only top-line player on this team.
No, the fault lies in the front office, where Emperor Palpatine cosplayer Lou Lamoriello lives. The Islanders have either refused to bring in more talent, or let the talent they have on hand simply walk. Devon Toews, who has produced 57 points from the blue line for the Avs this year, was thrown overboard for cap reasons. Jordan Eberle was parachuted to Seattle. And Lou has failed to replace either.
Look who does get long-term contracts from Lamoriello, Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, Ross Johnston. These are all fourth-liners, and while some might have some use like Cizikas, you’re also supposed to be able to find these types of players in the back of your closet anytime you want. And they certainly aren’t worth prioritizing over top six players.
The “scorers” that Lou wanted to keep around fall into the category of “former Devils.” You don’t want former New Jersey Devils when your problem is offense, skill, and flair. You don’t shop at Walmart for Trader Joe’s stuff. Kyle Palmieri and Jean-Gabriel Pageau are fine. They’re basically standard middle-six wingers. But again, they’re not the types of players you worry about when Barzal has no one to pass to. Parise has smelled funny and had weird chunks for years, which is why the Minnesota Wild were only too happy to pay his buyout to get him out of town.
Lou hasn’t produced anything through the draft either. He’s had four whacks at it, and the only two players to appear for the Isles are Oliver Wahlstrom and Noah Dobson, and only Dobson is a thing that would be considered anything above something you’d find in an alley with a handmade sign saying, “All yours.”
Sure, maybe it could be argued that Trotz was something of an impediment to Anthony Beauvillier making a leap. Brock Nelson and Anders Lee are what they are at this point, which are solid second-line players. But Trotz was either not given or stripped of any puck-mover on the blue line. Toews was that guy, and he’s currently having ya-ha time in Denver, while Lou used that money that should have gone to Toews to secure his plugs and ogres. The Isles can’t transition the puck up the ice quickly, if Trotz ever wanted to. Lamoriello’s best skill is bitching about having to pay any player more than a couple bowls of gruel.
Lamoriello still thinks this is a league where if you amass enough grunts and just drill them properly and get them to play a very focused, boring style, they can win. And some playoff results might have skewed his view, as the Isles went to back-to-back conference finals. But the league is moving away from that. Look at the top of the standings, and you’ll see teams laden with weapons. The Isles keep showing up to knifey-spoony with the latter half of that matchup.
Whether Trotz can thrive in this league is more debatable than most think. What Trotz does is get superb goaltending thanks to his goalie coach MItch Korn. That alone can raise a team’s fortunes if they’re a limited bunch. There are those teams out there. But again, this is a league that is becoming more scoring-focused. That wave may break and roll back, but if it doesn’t, there’s a definite ceiling to what Trotz can do with his glorified trapping system. And there’s a short window before players want something more entertaining.
But Trotz definitely did all he could on the Island. And the Islanders are still being steered by a guy trying to win the 2007 Stanley Cup.
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