BY LESLIE MONTEIRO
(Photo credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Lane Lambert was the only choice to replace Barry Trotz as the Islanders head coach. It was the right move to hire someone who earned the right to be a head coach for the first time after paying his dues for years as Barry Trotz’s associate head coach.
Lamoriello probably realized it after he looked at the list of coaches, and he came to the conclusion himself that Trotz’s righthand man was the best of all choices. He knew he couldn’t sell Joel Quenneville and Mike Babcock to the public because of their baggage. It would be a hard sell to replace a likable, popular head coach with a head coach that covered sexual abuse with a player on his own team (Quenneville) and a head coach that bullied players (Babcock). Retreads such as John Tortorella, Paul Maurice and Pete DeBoer did not make sense.
On Monday, the Islanders hockey boss announced Lambert as the Islanders head coach in a press conference.
No one questioned the hire because Lambert is more of an extension of Trotz that brings stability. It’s something Lamoriello wanted. As for a different voice, the new Islanders head coach brings that in a sense he has a mind of his own on how to operate a team and he may get more out of the young players such as Oliver Wahlstrom, Anthony Beauvillier, Kieffer Bellows, Sebastian Aho and Robin Salo with a softer touch that they can respond.
Yes, the Islanders need to get younger. This team maximized the most out of its roster last few years. It wasn’t going to get better as they got older. Trotz knew it, and he let Lamoriello know it. It did not sit well with the Islanders general manager, so the head coach received his pink slip.
But this goes way beyond being younger. The Islanders need a proven goal scorer, several good offensive defensemen and faster skaters. They have to do more than just check people and grind it out. In other words, there has to be retooling for this team to even make the playoffs next season.
The Islanders could use more size, especially against the faster teams in the Metropolitan Division and in the Eastern Conference.
The Islanders can only do so much with checking and grinding it out. They need to add more to their arsenal.
For Lambert to have success, Lamoriello must give better players for his new head coach to work with. This offseason is more about the general manager than the new head coach.
Internal improvements within the team can help by the young players being productive, but external improvements can make everybody’s job easy. It’s on Lamoriello to find a way. He is being paid the big bucks to get it done.
Lamoriello wants to talk about solutions. Well, now it’s up to him to deliver. He fired Trotz because he felt the team was sagging. Who’s fault is it the roster has been unproductive and stale the last few years? It can’t just be the head coach. This goes on to the general manager. There’s a reason there’s a change on the roster with teams year in and year out. Things don’t remain the same. Guys get stale and old fast. This seems to be the case this year with players such as Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck.
Firing Trotz will do nothing if the roster is still the same.
So many questions. Not many answers. Lamoriello has work to do this offseason.
The Islanders are more of a fringe playoff team at best right now, and it’s hard to think they are going to get better with Trotz gone. As highly lauded as Lambert is, no one knows how he is going to do until he coaches 82 games. In the end, it won’t matter who the coach is unless he has players to work with.
This is about Lamoriello more than who coaches the Islanders. He fired his head coach thinking a new coach can make a difference, so the pressure is on him to get players that will put Lambert in a position to do well.
It remains to be seen if Lamoriello has that magic to make the Islanders better. He made some good fringe moves as the Islanders general manager, but he needs to make a home run move than a singles move to make his hockey team better.
It’s going to be interesting to see if he still has it. In a salary-cap league, he has yet to show he can be creative to make a move that elevates his team. He struggled in his finals years with the Devils, and with the Islanders, he really didn’t have to do much tinkering.
Now the time has come to tinker because this roster can’t be the same as last year.
Lambert can offer all the fresh perspectives he wants. He can play the role of a bad cop and good cop with the young players. He can work on earning the respect of the veterans. But it won’t matter if the roster is more of the same next season.
Lamoriello knows Trotz is right about what he thinks of the roster. He understands the urgency of fixing it. He knows the pressure he’s in after firing a head coach to shake things up.
If this is going to be more of the same, not only the Islanders will likely introduce a new head coach, but they likely will introduce a new general manager a season or two from now.
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