It all happened so fast. One minute, Alex Ovechkin was skating around the ice in Las Vegas holding the Stanley Cup high. Two weeks later, the Head Coach of the 2018 Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals had a new job. Within minutes of the Capitals' decision to let future Hall of Famer Barry Trotz explore other options, Lou Lamoriello was picking up his phone. Trotz apparently did not need much convincing, as three days later, he signed a five-year contract worth $20M with the NY Islanders.
When the Islanders brought Lamoriello and Trotz onboard in the summer of 2018, the franchise was at a crossroads. The coaching staff had the team playing unstructured pond hockey, and were not up to the task of guiding the franchise the way it needed to be guided. Not to mention the fact that captain John Tavares was due to be a UFA ten days after Trotz signed his contract with the Isles. Needless to say, there was a lot going on.
After Tavares decided to leave for Toronto, the anxiety amongst the fanbase was palpable. The future was extremely uncertain. Barry Trotz was ready to teach the Isles his first lesson: nobody is going to cry for you when you face adversity. Everyone faces adversity, and you've just got to keep your eyes on the prize and never stop putting in the work. So Trotz exemplified that next-man-up attitude by immediately naming Anders Lee the new captain and reminding players like Brock Nelson that Tavares's departure was an opportunity to step up and fill a more important role. For what it's worth, since Trotz's hire, Nelson has been the team's most consistent performer, currently on pace for his third-straight 35-goal season.
And that focus on team over self became the Islanders mantra for the next four seasons. It doesn't matter who is hurt, or who you're playing, or what happened yesterday. The Islanders expected to win every night. This was a new standard and expectation for the organization, and one that was sorely needed. Trotz made that clear very early on, before his first game against his old team, the defending champion Capitals.
In November 2018, when Trotz reunited with the Caps to receive his Stanley Cup ring, he famously told them that while they were capable of winning another Cup, "[they'd] have to go through the f****** Island." While Trotz was praised for such a cool statement, not many people around the hockey world took it seriously. But Trotz wasn't kidding. The standards and expectations had changed on Long Island for good.