When Barry Trotz was abruptly and surprisingly dismissed by Lou Lamoriello, many on the outside wondered whether the GM's decision was based on feedback received from players during exit interviews. The most recurring conjecture was that the relationship between Trotz and star center Mathew Barzal had soured last season and this was among the primary drivers for the change.
Nothing concrete ever came out (and likely never will) about whether Barzal's view on what needed to change impacted Lamoriello's decision. "Barry was great. Not a bad word to say," Barzal said to NHL.com in September. "But I think with coaching changes, sometimes you just need a new voice, sometimes you just need a fresh face."
The GM owned the firing of Trotz and always will, we'll never know if any one player's comments had any more weight than others. But recent comments would indicate that the newly extended Barzal felt that a faster, more aggressive style was necessary to compete with the NHL's top teams.
"Look at Colorado. Everyone’s up in the play, skating fast. Carolina’s so hard to play against cause everyone is up and aggressive and in your face. That’s kinda how other good teams play now. We gotta adapt."- Mathew Barzal
The Islanders are looking to take what they learned under Trotz, which forged their identity, and combine it with a style that resembles what the league's top teams are doing. This means freeing up their skill players and asking their defensemen to be more aggressive in the offensive zone.
"I think him [Lambert] and Barry have some similar philosophies, and that's a good thing, that's a really good thing," said Barzal on the 32 Thoughts podcast last month. You need to have good defensive structure, and Barry did a great job of bringing that into our team because we were lacking that a little bit, and it made us successful. I think that's a staple in our culture."
It will take some time for the Isles to adapt and find the right balance in their new system. The players will still be expected to back-check hard, be in position, and block shots the same way they did over the last four seasons. If not, it's unlikely Lambert can afford players like Barzal the leeway to have more freedom offensively. It will be fascinating to see to what extent their defensive prowess will remain as they aim to be a more consistent and explosive team.