BY LESLIE MONTEIRO
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The Islanders made news that had everyone talking.
There were not even reports that Barry Trotz would be in danger of being fired at any point of this season. The Islanders coach sounded like a coach who wants to make things right next season. He had a plan on how to get the Islanders back on track after a disappointing campaign.
Imagine his surprise when he received the news that he was fired on Monday morning. Multiply that with the Islanders fans and even some Islanders players now.
It’s hard to understand this decision. Only Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello knows about it since he made the decision to fire a successful head coach. Not surprisingly, he was vague in explaining his decision to the media members and to the fans. He wasn’t going to trash his head coach on his way out. Plus in his mind, it was none of anyone’s business.
This goes back to Lamoriello. It’s on him to get it right. When he made the decision to fire his head coach, he put the pressure on himself to fix it, and rightfully so since it comes with the territory of overseeing the hockey operation. He has to figure this out because this roster is aging.
Trotz got the most out of this roster for three seasons prior to this year. No one can fault him for everything that went on this year. Players such as Mat Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier underachieved. The Islanders identity line of Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck offered nothing most of the season. And don’t forget this team had many players out with COVID-19 or mysterious injuries this season.
This firing wasn’t based on what happened this season, it was about what can be done to remedy next season. It was clear Lamoriello did not like what he heard from the players in their exit interviews. It could not help the Islanders hockey boss did not like what he heard from his head coach.
In my opinion, Trotz was fired because he thought he maximized everything out of the roster for four seasons and he couldn’t do it anymore. In other words, he did not think this roster was good enough to win the Stanley Cup or do much in the playoffs anymore. He felt a change in the roster was needed, and Lamoriello felt a different voice could change that.
Trotz has a point. He knows what a Stanley Cup championship team is about since he coached a Stanley Cup winner. He knows his roster since he is around the players daily. He has a great feel for the players to make a conviction on the roster.
But Lamoriello does not want to hear it. He is about winning at all costs. He will find someone else to get it done. He fired great coaches such as Larry Robinson, Claude Julien (with three games to go and the playoffs on the horizon in 2007) and Jacques Lemaire. He fired Devils head coach Robbie Ftorek in 2000 with eight games remaining in the regular season, and it paid off in the end when the Devils won the Stanley Cup that year with Robinson filling it.
This is what Trotz’s firing came down here.
Lamoriello is searching for solutions, and that’s why the pressure is on him now. With him being 79 years old, he won’t get that many chances of turning this around. This is now or never for him. He wants to win a Stanley Cup with the Islanders before he retires or croaks. He wants answers now, He clearly had no time for Trotz being realistic.
This isn’t about making Trotz a scapegoat. This is about achieving the goal here.
Trotz received criticism for not giving youngsters such as Oliver Wahlstrom, Aatu Raty, Robin Salo, Kieffer Bellows, Sebastian Aho and Grant Hutton. A head coach’s job is not only just win, but to develop young players. From Lamoriello’s perspective, the Islanders head coach should have given them a chance to develop and learn from their mistakes.
Trotz did not think much of them for him not to play them. Obviously, he wants to win games so he will go with the guys he trusts, but if those guys were any good, wouldn’t Trotz give them a look? He has to have an idea of these players. For those that said Trotz is not good with young players, he gave Noah Dobson and Devon Toews ice time often, so this does not add up.
It came down to a disagreement on how Trotz and Lamoriello view young players on the roster. Fair or not, the general manager gets the upper hand since these are the players that he invested in by drafting them. This is where a different voice could help from Lamoriello’s perspective. Maybe that guy is Trotz’s associate head coach Lane Lambert, who would be a great choice to coach the Islanders. Lamoriello better hopes that’s the case or this franchise could take another step back in the next few seasons.
Much can be said about Trotz’s defensive structure play stifling Mat Barzal’s system that got the future Hall of Famer fired, but that’s not it since Lamoriello is also a defense-first guy, so that claim does not make sense.
Trotz will be fine. The future Hall of Famer is set for life, and he will likely get another head coaching job of his choosing or work in a management role of an NHL team. He is going to be beloved by Islanders fans for life the way the late Al Arbour was. He will get a nice tribute by the Islanders and a standing ovation when he returns to the UBS Arena as an opposing head coach.
Worry about the Islanders. No one has any idea where they are going with an aging roster. Maybe they are a playoff team next year, but is this a Stanley Cup contending team?
No one knows. Islanders owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky signed off on this firing with the idea that Lamoriello knows what to do. They are paying him to get it right.
Trotz’s firing puts Lamoriello on the clock to make sure last season does not happen again.
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