Former NY Islanders coach Barry Trotz deserves the greatest return ovation of all

Mar 5, 2019; Uniondale, NY, USA; New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz speaks after defeating
Mar 5, 2019; Uniondale, NY, USA; New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz speaks after defeating / Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Hockey Hall of Famer Al Arbour is the unquestioned greatest head coach in New York Islanders history, and it will always remain that way. But for a generation of Islanders fans, Barry Trotz is the closest thing they've ever experienced to having a leader, teacher, mentor, and gentleman behind their team's bench. He was the perfect coach at the perfect and needed time.

Trotz was gifted to GM Lou Lamoriello shortly after winning a Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals. He would bring a winning pedigree, accountability, and professionalism to an organization that desperately needed it. He ended up delivering that and a whole lot more during his four years.

Trotz was expected to make an impact, but what he accomplished in his first season was nothing short of one of the best coaching jobs in New York sports history. Faced with the reality and emotional blow of losing the team's franchise player, his message was constantly about the group and not the individual, about building an identity rather than accomplishing individual success.

"I said it early in the year, if you want to go somewhere quick, you go alone, said Trotz late in the 2018-2019 season. "If you want to go somewhere far, you go as a group. They decided to go as a group."

Barry Trotz
2019 NHL Awards / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

They went far in 2019 and went even further in 2020 and 2021, further than any New York Islanders team had gone in over 30 years. He famously said teams needed "to go through the f--king Island" to win a Stanley Cup, and that proved true for a number of teams. The Isles just fell just short of their ultimate goal, but that only slightly diminishes what that period of Islanders hockey represents.

The Islanders were an often dismissed, unserious franchise to a team and organization you needed to respect because the way Trotz carried himself demanded it. He was harsh yet gentle, abrasive yet kind. Through listening to him, you learned about what it took to be successful in the game of hockey and, if you listened closely, in the game of life as well.

Trotz returns to UBS Arena tonight as GM of the Nashville Predators in a game his former team needs to solidify their playoff position. He may always consider Nashville home after spending 15 seasons as the team's first coach. However, he'll always be at home on Long Island and forever revered in a special way.

The fans have welcomed back a number of players from the Trotz era in recent years, from Jordan Eberle and Nick Leddy to Ross Johnson and Thomas Greiss. The largest and most gracious ovation should come for Barry.

He's not one to seek or take individual credit, but no one person was more responsible for changing the franchise's culture and bringing pride back to the Islanders logo in a way not felt since the dynasty years. If you're there tonight, get on your feet and stay on your feet when the moment comes, there is not one more deserving of a thank you than Trotz.