As I made my way to Yankee Stadium, a pair of men sat down in the row in front of me on the Long Island Rail Road. One of them, presumably a New York Islanders fan, had just learned that the team had let go of head coach Barry Trotz some 20-odd minutes earlier.
In a short exchange with his friend, it was safe to say that he was none too happy about the decision.
It was easy to imagine similar scenes playing out in LIRR cars and delis across Long Island on Monday. The franchise had just made its most shocking coaching change since Mike Milbury fired rising coaching star Peter Laviolette, which prompted even the hockey apathetic New York sports radio scene to react with confusion and outrage.
Now it happened again. Although this time it was a future Hall-of-Fame coach that was offered up as the sacrificial lamb for a season littered with issues, few of which were the doing of Trotz.
Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello called the move a “business decision.” History may look back and call it a mistake.
Even in his “worst season” behind the bench for the Isles, he got more out of a team that was flawed from the get-go than most coaches could have mustered. Even after a 13-game road trip to start the year, the Islanders returned to Long Island in decent standing, and in the final months of the season, he helped will the team to remain competitive enough that their fans were dreaming of a miracle run right up until the last weeks of the season.
Did Trotz have his flaws? Sure he did.
His reliance on veterans was maddening at times and his low tolerance for mistakes from the youngsters had frustrated the fan base. Still, in the work he did with the Islanders, it was easy to see why he is often referred to as a future Hall of Famer.
In his four years behind the Islanders bench, Trotz went 152-102-34, good for third all-time in franchise history, and led the team to back-to-back Stanley Cup semifinal appearances. They made the playoffs in three of their last four years — their most successful stretch since the dynasty days under Al Arbour.
Heck, under his stewardship along with Lamoriello, the Islanders went from constant chaos to a model of stability for franchises in the New York market. Lamoriello helped usher that in and Trotz made the team the gold standard in a market with seven other major professional sports teams.
Now the Islanders are without a coach and there are very few answers as to why it came to this.
“Unfortunately it is my role to make the best decisions for the organization,” Lamoriello told reporters. “Did I consult with anyone on this decision? The answer is no. Did I speak to players on this decision? No. I would never even consider thinking of anything like that. This decision is on the knowledge that I have, of the experiences I’ve had, and going forward what I think and feel is best for this group to have success.”
Lamoriello, as he often does, shared very few details about the organization’s biggest decision since former GM Garth Snow and coach Doug Weight were ousted following the disappointing 2017-18 season. And now he must replace a head coach while fixing an Islanders roster he failed to adequately address going into last season.
Under Trotz, the Islanders went from a team with no identity to a cup-contending NHL club feared on a nightly basis. To cut that short before he was able to finish out his contract just doesn’t make sense. Even less with the few answers that were provided late Monday morning by the man that is clearly running the show above all else when it comes to the Isles.
May 9, 2022, at 9:45 a.m. Remember that moment, because it may be one that defines the Islanders for quite some time.