Anders Lee captained he New York Islanders through their most successful period since the days of the dynasty with a simple mantra fueling the locker room: Prove people wrong.
They did just that when Lou Lamoriello brought in head coach Barry Trotz — taking a team that had just lost a generational talent in John Tavares that was picked to finish at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and ultimately taking them to two consecutive Stanley Cup semifinals.
A turbulent 11 months though has seen the Islanders once again plummet down the expectation charts heading into the 2022-23 season.
Trotz — arguably the second-greatest coach in franchise history only behind Al Arbour — was dismissed. His protegee and assistant for more than a decade, Lane Lambert, now has his first-ever NHL head coaching job with a roster that remains largely the same compared to last season.
“Anytime something like that happens, it’s always a bit of a shock. Barry was good to us for such a long time and got us into a position where we were close,” Lee said. “I think now it’s a transition to Lane. It’s a great opportunity for everyone here. For Lane, he’s been looking forward to this opportunity for sure. Having that familiarity off the bat — we’ve all played for Lane and he knows our group. He’ll be able to get out of us what he needs and we’ll know where he’s coming from.”
Still, no big signings, no big trades, no moves to address the glaring needs along the roster; most notably a legitimate first-line scoring winger that could be paired with Mathew Barzal. Instead, it’s one more vote of confidence from Lamoriello, who carries the belief from the organization that last season was just a fluke given a 13-game season-opening road trip, multiple COVID outbreaks, and injuries to foundational pieces.
“Our group is a strong group. I don’t think it was the group collectively we didn’t put it all together last year,” Lee said. “I think we had a lot going on that kept us from performing the way we needed to and we had to overcome quite a bit… For a long stretch of a long season, we didn’t have time to stumble… and we did a couple times.”
And so the Islanders return to the mantra that helped fuel them four years ago as training camp begins Thursday.
“I think that mindset is something that’ll be with you until you do it,” Lee said. “Everyone’s trying to do it whether it’s hockey or not. That mentality, that approach can give you an edge but a lot of people are using it, too. For us, it’s been a little bit of a narrative in our time here and that’s no surprise.
“Until we earn our way out of it, that’s the way it’s going to be.”
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