The NY Islanders have come a long way from losing in the opening playoff rounds and having a coaching carousel of first-time coaches. Hiring Barry Trotz and Lou Lamoriello will do that to an organization. The Islanders made it to the Eastern Conference Final twice under Trotz and past the first round of the playoffs three out of the four years. Still, Trotz is now a former coach and his right-hand man, Lane Lambert, is at the helm.
Lambert will be a first-year head coach but has had a lot of experience from the years directly under Trotz's wing.
Veteran Team and a First Time Head Coach
A first-time NHL head coach traditionally takes over behind the bench of a rebuilding team. Lambert, however, has inherited a team that has aspirations of returning to the playoffs and has the intention of competing for a Stanley Cup. Lambert had plenty of teams lining up to interview him for his services before he was hired as the Islanders' next head coach. He's a little more decorated, too, as a Stanley Cup champion serving as Trotz's associate with the Washington Capitals.
Last season, Lambert filled in for Trotz when the former head coach was absent for personal reasons. Although it was a short amount of time, Lambert certainly got a feel for how this team can run under his tutelage. The core group of the roster has been with the Islanders even before Lambert and Trotz arrived and they've flourished under the new management for the most part. With Lambert now at the helm, the question becomes if some of the veterans who struggled last season can flourish following the new voice in 2022-23.
It's justifiable to wonder, too, if Lambert can't get through to his veterans to start the season and they stumble out of the gate, could the new head coach be on the hot seat? A key factor in Lambert's success if he'll be able to get his young players such as Oliver Wahlstrom, Kieffer Bellows, and Robin Salo to develop into impact NHLers, something he has experienced in the past, having an impact on Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson's breakout seasons.
The Islanders believe they're still in their win-now window. Lamoriello doubled down on the sentiment when he didn't make any additions to the forward group this summer and gave his team a vow of confidence:
"I'm really excited about the team we have going into the season right now. I feel very good. If we could've gotten better, we would've done that."- Lou Lamoriello
There wasn't much about Trotz that you could criticize. One thing that many fans did harp on, however, was the fact that the Islanders veterans seemed to have too much slack on their leash, even when things weren't working individually. Players like Bailey, Anthony Beauvillier, and Kyle Palmieri often went long stretches where they were unable to find the scoresheet and were even liabilities on the ice. Despite the struggles, it wasn't often, if ever, that the Islander veterans were held accountable.
What was most interesting was if a guy like Wahlstrom made the same mistakes, he would find himself on the bench for a full period, or worse, in the press box the next game. Wahlstrom handled it well claiming he needed the "tough love," however, it feels counterproductive to not allow a 21-year-old player to work out the kinks on the ice.
It appears Lamoriello has altered his mindset and the Islanders have become a younger team this year. With guys like Wahlstrom, Bellows, and Salo likely in the mix as regulars, Lambert should work with any growing pains his young players might display on the ice within reason, allowing them to learn through experience. If the Islanders hope to take a step in the right direction, developing the youth is crucial, and could be a major factor as to why Lambert is calling the shots next season.