As a disappointing Islanders season beset by scheduling and COVID-19 hurdles ground to its inevitable conclusion with the team’s first playoff miss since 2018, Barry Trotz took to describing it as “bizarre.”
Seemingly as strange was president and general manager Lou Lamoriello’s decision on Monday to relieve Trotz of his coaching duties after four seasons, only one of which was not impacted by the pandemic.
“It will be a tremendous understatement to say that this wasn’t an easy decision to make,” Lamoriello said in a teleconference. “Unfortunately, it was my role to make the best decisions for the organization going forward. And I believe that this group of players needs a new voice.”
Lamoriello added there is no timetable for hiring a new coach and, currently, all of Trotz’s staff — associate coach Lane Lambert, assistant coaches John Gruden and Jim Hiller, director of goaltending Mitch Korn and goalie coach Piero Greco — remain under contract.
Lamoriello said he could not answer what type of “new voice” the Islanders need and also wouldn’t detail why he believed the Islanders needed one.
“Any type of decision like this doesn’t happen overnight, it’s over a period of time,” Lamoriello said. “Certainly, all the extenuating circumstances that transpired this year, uncontrollable by everyone or anyone, is taken into consideration. But I’d rather not get into any of the reasons because that’s my job upon the information that I have and I have the experience to make these type of decisions.”
Lamoriello, just under a month after joining the Islanders, hired Trotz on June 21, 2018, shortly after he had guided the Capitals to that organization’s first Stanley Cup.
Trotz, who turns 60 on July 15, went 152-102-34 in his four seasons with the Islanders. Trotz started his NHL career with the expansion Predators in 1998 and coached 15 seasons in Nashville before four in Washington. He has a career mark of 914-670-60-168 in 1,812 games. Trotz trails only Scotty Bowman (1,244) and Joel Quenneville (969) in NHL coaching victories and only Bowman (2,141) in games coached.
In Trotz’s first season, the Islanders went from allowing the most goals in the NHL in 2017-18 to allowing the fewest, and the team swept the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs before being swept by the Hurricanes.
Trotz then led the Islanders to back-to-back appearances in the NHL semifinals, losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Lightning both times. Both of those seasons were shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 postseason was played in playoff bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton in August and September.
This season started with a franchise-record 13-game road trip as construction of UBS Arena was completed. COVID-19 outbreaks starting in mid-November led to a spate of postponements and rescheduled games, leaving the Islanders with long stretches without games in December and early January before squeezing 17 games into March and 16 into April.
Trotz missed three games around the New Year — with Lambert replacing him behind the bench — after his mother passed away and then he tested positive for COVID-19.
“I think that all of us can always handle something different after the fact,” Lamoriello said. “Any of this decision was not just primarily made on this season.”
There were other factors that may have factored into Lamoriello’s decision.
Trotz was believed to be entering the final season of his contract, though Lamoriello, asked directly, said that did not play a role in Trotz’s firing.
There are other NHL jobs available, including the Winnipeg Jets. Trotz grew up in nearby Dauphin, Manitoba, and his widowed father still lives there.
As for the team he leaves, Lamoriello said the Islanders’ core must respond to Trotz’s firing.
“They are on notice right now that the new voice is what’s necessary for us to have success,” Lamoriello said. “My opinion is what has to make these decisions.”
“We’d like to improve our defense, if we can. If there’s a way of making a hockey deal with our forwards, we would do that. What we have to do is get improvement out of our younger players and also a more complete year out of some of our veterans than we did this year.”