Lane Lambert just isn't the guy.
That's what it comes down to. It's become apparent after 1.5 seasons behind the New York Islanders bench. Is he a bad coach? No. He's contributed as an assistant for too many winning teams and is held in high regard by too many around the league for that to be true.
However, there's one obvious move for GM Lou Lamoriello to save a season that is slipping away, and that's to make a coaching change. If nothing changes, nothing changes, and a 19-15-11 record after 45 games is all the proof Lamoriello needs that the second-year coach isn't getting the most from this roster built with the belief their Stanley Cup contending window was still open.
The Islanders are not a trade or a returning injured player away from things turning around. When a team makes the same mistakes in Game 45 as in Game 5, it's not just about talent and roster construction. This team's players are not all pulling in the same direction. They either don't fully grasp Lambert's system or aren't fully committed to it.
There's been so much talk about the Islanders' "identity," but the truth is they don't have one under Lambert; all they have is the fading reputation of being a tough team to play with under Barry Trotz. The Islanders make things easy on their opponents, allowing the second-most shots per game, a bevy of odd-man rushes, and high-danger scoring chances.
Why should the Islanders make a coaching change?
The transition from assistant to head coach is significant. It's not enough to draw up Xs and Os and review game films. You need to be a motivator, hold players accountable, instill a work ethic, and adapt quickly to the inevitable twists and turns of a season.
The Islanders are a flawed team. The league is full of them, but the Islanders stand out in how they have been consistently poor all season. The blown leads and defensive assignments, the failing penalty kill, the careless and ill-advised penalties. The benefit of being able to identify a problem is that once you've done it, you can start working on the solutions.
The Islanders have known their issues all season, and yet the coaching staff has been unable to find the right corrective action to turn things around. The line combinations change, but the talking points stay the same, as do the results.
"I don't feel the team is anywhere near where it can be or should be," Lambert said after the team's 4-3 loss in overtime to the Chicago Blackhawks to end a winless four-game road trip. "There's leadership in that room. We've got guys that need to play better," he added. "The jolt needs to come from within as well."
Every veteran NHL team has leaders in the dressing room, but it doesn't mean that they're capable of changing the course of a season that now seems destined to miss the playoffs.
The coach is accountable for that, too, and if neither the coach nor players are making that happen, there needs to be a shock to the entire system, and changing the head coach is the quickest and most effective way to do it. It's worked too many times across the NHL for it not to be the move Lamoriello should make.
I would like nothing better for this to be proven to be the wrong take; that the Islanders under Lambert will find a way to turn things around and qualify for the post-season. Yet, this is the third cycle where it felt like a coaching change was necessary, and you have to wonder if something was done earlier, if the Islanders would be in a different position right now.