Why did the Islanders fire Barry Trotz and what happens next?

If you were hoping for some clarity on why the Islanders decided to fire coach Barry Trotz on Monday, general manager Lou Lamoriello didn’t have much for you on a follow-up conference call that took place about half an hour after the news shocked the hockey world.

Instead, the main takeaways were:

• The decision was up to Lamoriello and Lamoriello.

“Did I consult anyone on this decision? The answer is no,” Lamoriello said. “Have I spoken to the players about this decision? No. I would never even consider thinking about something like that. This decision is based on the knowledge I have, the experiences I have had, and also what I think and feel is best for this group to succeed.

• The fact that Trotz had one year left on his contract was not a factor.

“Not at all,” Lamoriello said.

According to Athleticism‘s Pierre LeBrun, the final year of Trotz’s original five-year contract was at a salary of $4 million.

• The Islanders’ failure to live up to expectations this season isn’t the only reason Trotz was fired.

“That decision hasn’t just been made primarily this season,” Lamoriello said in what was perhaps his most confusing statement, given the Islanders had just made it to the league semi-finals, losing the twice against the eventual Stanley Cup. Lightning champion.

• There is no timeline to find a new coach, and all of Trotz’s assistant coaches are still with the team, including Lane Lambert, who many believe is ready for a head coaching job himself.

“Each of our assistant coaches is under contract for next year,” Lamoriello said. “We will deal with everything appropriately and a new coach will have a say in the decisions to be made, if they have to be made.”

• There was no divide between Lamoriello and Trotz.

At least not according to Lamoriello.

“I spoke to Barry this morning,” he said. “We have, have had and always will have a wonderful personal relationship. It’s definitely a business decision, as far as hockey and winning are concerned.

Lou Lamorello. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

But the bigger question – what was the reasoning behind this decision? — went essentially unanswered other than the standard “this group of players needs a new voice” trope that is so regularly uttered in situations like these in professional sports.

Trotz is considered one of the best coaches in the league in the NHL. He won a Stanley Cup with the Capitals in 2018 and won five playoff rounds (plus a qualifying round) with the Islanders in his four seasons. If he’s not a good enough voice for this team, who could be a better one?

It could be Lambert, although logic would seem to dictate that if so, the team would have announced it along with Monday’s news.

That will be answered at some point this offseason, of course. And in addition to finding a new coach, Lamoriello also has work to do to modify the roster. He said he thought he had the right core in place, but touched on what his priorities might be at the end of his call on Monday.

“We would like to improve our defense if we can, as far as offense is concerned,” he said. “If there’s a way to get a deal in hockey, certainly with our forwards, we would do it. I think what we need to do is improve our young players and also have a fuller year of some of our veterans than we did this year.

This last nugget could provide some insight into how Lamoriello came to the decision he made regarding Trotz. While young players like Noah Dobson and Ilya Sorokin have made huge strides this season, others like Oliver Wahlstrom haven’t. Trotz’s handling of Wahlstrom was a particularly hot topic throughout the second half, as was the coach’s long leash for veterans who struggled early in the season.

And then there is the still young Mathew Barzal. The 24-year-old forward is the Islanders’ most talented player on the roster, but has seen his ice time and role reduced in the second half of the season. He is also eligible to sign a long-term contract extension this summer as a restricted free agent.

A league source with knowledge of the Islanders locker room pushed back against Lamoriello’s claim that the decision was made without any input from the players, pointing out that the general manager surely knew what they were thinking after holding the standard player meetings individual immediately after the season.

“When you wait a week to fire a guy, you obviously listened to the players in their meetings,” the source said. “It was not done properly at the end of the season. So he took a week, met with the players, and obviously the voices of the players were heard here and that’s the result.

If the players did indeed criticize Trotz after the season, they weren’t the only ones. Trotz himself has openly questioned how he handled the islanders’ strange circumstances. For example, he wondered if the team would have been better off resting more and training less in January when they had one game in 13 days to start the new year.

He also questioned whether the Islanders’ style of play, which he’s tasked with implementing, holds up better over a shorter period, such as in the 2020 playoff bubble or the shortened 2021 season.

“The 56-game schedule (in 2021), we’ve probably played 48 playoff games (like), tough,” Trotz said. “The eighty-two was a bit more difficult for us to play that style – that hard, crushing style. And we didn’t have much respite.

“We had five mini training camps. Some of the ones we probably didn’t need because there was still that mental prep work. We had like a 10 day training camp (in January). Looking back, maybe we should have taken five days off. Sometimes you try to push too hard and you do less.

It could have been. This style could also have led to frustration in the locker room and in post-season meetings. At least some Islanders players weren’t surprised by Monday’s apparent bombshell, according to a league source.

“Is it fun to play this way?” the source said. “Is it fun to have your stick in a certain lane all the time? You don’t play on instinct. It adds up after a while. With his style of play and structure, you’re all set. -in or you’re not. If you’re not all-in, it won’t work. It’s as simple as that.”

An Eastern Conference team executive echoed that sentiment.

“When you play the way the Islanders play, it’s a tough way to play night after night, year after year,” the executive said. “It takes incredible discipline. That’s why I think teams that play like that always have to change a few parts every year, no matter how successful: to bring some life to the team.

“They’re a tough team to play against defensively. They don’t give you much. But it’s also a tough way to play for them, to play that way every night.

Still, whether a change behind the bench was necessary is debatable. Trotz’s tenure with the Islanders can only be considered a resounding success, and he will leave Long Island with his reputation as one of the best head coaches in the game firmly intact. Trotz, 59, is third in NHL history for most wins by a coach (914), behind only Scotty Bowman (1,244) and Joel Quenneville (969). In four seasons under Trotz, the Islanders went 152-102-34 in the regular season and 28-21 in the playoffs. He won the 2019 Jack Adams Award as the league’s best coach.

There is already speculation as to where he could end up next, with many suggesting the Winnipeg Jets would make the most sense. Trotz said after the conclusion of the Islanders’ last game that he still had a number of personal issues to deal with, likely related to his mother’s death in January in Manitoba. He is originally from Dauphin, Manitoba, about three hours from Winnipeg.

“He’s a great coach,” said the executive. “He’s a Stanley Cup winner. He’s a great person. The reality is that there is no shame in failing once in a while. You lose your job because of responsibility, expectations, whatever. It’s part of our job. Results should really be what matters in our business. That’s what matters to a lot of owners and GMs like Lou Lamoriello.

“Lou talks about responsibility and they missed the playoffs. I think sometimes in our league everybody wants to look for excuses – like, there were injuries, and there was COVID, and there was all these other things. But Lou’s story is that he is looking for results. And they underperformed.

From Lamoriello’s perspective, he expects players to respond to whoever he chooses as the 18th head coach in franchise history.

“These types of decisions are made to move forward, not to move backward,” he said. “I think with this group that we have, they are aware right now that the new voice is what is needed for us to be successful, in my opinion. Unfortunately or fortunately, it is my opinion that must make these decisions.

(Photo of Barry Trotz on the bench with Zach Parise and Oliver Wahlstrom: Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

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