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New York Islanders team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello might have shocked the hockey world Monday morning when he unceremoniously fired coach Barry Trotz, but those who followed his career will tell you the move was par for the course for the 79-year-old Hall of Fame executive.
Lamoriello is known as an iron-fisted, tight-lipped executive who views coaches as expendable. He fired Robbie Ftorek with eight games left in the regular season when the New Jersey Devils were leading the Eastern Conference standings.
Often compared to George Steinbrenner and sometimes called the “Baby Boss” by the local media, Lamoriello made 20 coaching moves during his tenure as the president and general manager of the Devils.
Trotz won the Jack Adams Award in 2019 and took the Islanders to back-to-back conference final/semifinal rounds in 2020 and 2021, losing to the eventual champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning, both years.
Keep in mind that this was mostly accomplished with players acquired by former general manager Garth Snow.
But Lou is back to his old ways.
“This would be a tremendous understatement to say that it was an easy decision to make, but unfortunately, it’s my role to make the best decisions for the organization going forward,” Lamoriello said on a conference call shortly after announcing the decision. “I believe that this group of players needs a new voice.”
As for what that new voice needs to sound like, Lamoriello isn’t sure yet. He offered no specifics other than to say he was unhappy with the offensive production and that the decision was not made primarily on this season.
Lamoriello said he does not need to report to anyone except for owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin.
“Did I consult with anyone on this decision, the answer is no. Did I speak to players on this decision? No. I would never even consider thinking of anything like that,” he said. “This decision is on the knowledge that I have, of the experiences I’ve had, and going forward, what I think and feel is best for this group to have success.”
But here’s where he got it wrong: While this kind of thinking might have worked in the 1990s and the early aughts in New Jersey, it doesn’t work in 2022. This is a team devoid of a true star because Trotz’s vaunted defensive system is the star.
Lamoriello’s philosophy that players should play for the name on the front of the jersey and not on the back, regardless of the cameras, media outlets and social media platforms is quaint but outdated.
Another team is going to get a very good coach in Trotz. Let’s take a look at where he could land.
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Detroit Red Wings
Detroit seems like an obvious destination for Trotz, considering this is an up-and-coming team with high-end young talent that needs a coach to help them put it all together.
Jeff Blashill was recently fired after losing seasons in six of the last seven campaigns, though you could make the argument that he never really had a chance given how long this rebuild has taken.
However, you need to look at the general manager’s history of coaching hires to try to connect the dots. Steve Yzerman has hired two head coaches as an executive, both in Tampa: Guy Boucher and Jon Cooper. Both were relatively young and relatively new to NHL coaching.
Boucher came to the NHL from the AHL and, as a rookie head coach, led the Lightning to the Eastern Conference Final. He bridged the gap for Cooper, who was the club’s AHL coach. Cooper played lacrosse in college and was a practicing lawyer before moving into coaching.
Yzerman has an eye for coaching talent, so while this might seem like an obvious move on paper when you look at the hiring patterns, it suddenly doesn’t feel like one anymore.
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General manager Chuck Fletcher is hanging on to his job by a thread. He hired coach Alain Vigneault prior to the 2019-20 season and fired him this season, replacing him with assistant coach Mike Yeo. The club recently announced that they are moving on from Yeo, though they would like to keep him in the organization.
The Flyers are in a weird spot. They dealt veteran captain Claude Giroux at the trade deadline a few months ago and have significant money committed to some veterans on the roster, with new deals kicking in for Joel Farabee and Rasmus Ristolainen next season.
The young players are struggling to develop, but that’s not uncommon in a losing season.
The defensive structure was an Achilles’ heel for Philadelphia last season, as the Flyers allowed the fourth-most shot attempts at five-on-five and the eighth-most scoring chances. Trotz’s calling card is his defensive system.
Plus, the club has long struggled to develop goaltending talent. Bleeding chances like that would be a challenge for even the best goalies in the world, but a better defensive setup and Trotz’s renowned goaltending coach Mitch Korn could help Carter Hart finally become a franchise backstop.
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New Jersey Devils
General manager Tom Fitzgerald has made one NHL coaching hire since taking over for Ray Shero early in 2020, going with veteran Lindy Ruff.
He recently threw his support behind his head coach after yet another dismal season, but could the availability of Trotz change his mind? Fitzgerald has some familiarity with Trotz, having played for him in Nashville.
The Devils were mediocre at best scoring goals last season, a problem further exacerbated by injuries, poor goaltending and a disastrous power play.
It’s unclear whether the club is content with goalie Mackenzie Blackwood, but bringing in Trotz to fix the defense and Korn to aid in the goaltending (assuming they are still a package deal) could help the club finally take a step toward a return to prominence.
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Jim Rutherford and Patrik Allvin have a June 1 deadline to decide whether to pick up Bruce Boudreau’s option year. Boudreau replaced Travis Green for the final 57 games of the season, and the Canucks pushed for a playoff spot, but that might not be enough of a sample size to retain the affable Boudreau.
Rutherford seems on the fence, saying he might need to see how Boudreau does over a full season.
One thing to keep in mind here is that Boudreau was hired by owner Francesco Aquilini before he fired general manager Jim Benning and brought in Rutherford and Allvin. The former Pittsburgh Penguins front office duo might want to put their own stamp on the organization with their own coach.
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Vegas Golden Knights
What will the Golden Knights do with Peter DeBoer after the club’s failure to make the playoffs? Former Caps GM George McPhee is in Vegas as the president of hockey operations—Trotz and McPhee previously worked together in the Washington Capitals organization when Trotz was the AHL coach (Baltimore Skipjacks and Portland Pirates) in the 1990s.
DeBoer might be a very respected coach, but he has a reputation for wearing out his welcome. He hasn’t been in Vegas for very long, but the decision-making group there has proved to be somewhat impulsive.
DeBoer’s timing hasn’t been great as he was in New Jersey during the start of their rebuild and in San Jose as the roster began to age. He took both of those teams to Stanley Cup Finals, but the difference is that Trotz won it all while DeBoer has yet to reach that peak.
The Golden Knights are in win-now mode with significant money committed to players 30 and over. Trotz is a win-now coach.
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San Jose Sharks
Bob Boughner is in a similar spot to his predecessor in that his job status seems to be tenuous.
Longtime general manager Doug Wilson recently stepped down citing health issues and Sharks president Jonathan Becher and interim general manager Joe Will are conducting a search for his replacement.
A coach is rarely hired before a general manager, but stranger things have happened (see the above on Boudreau). It’s more likely the Sharks will let a new GM conduct his own coaching search, but if Trotz is still available when a new executive is hired, then he could be an attractive option.
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This feels like the most natural fit. Trotz is a Manitoba native, and he played and coached at the University of Manitoba, as well as with the Dauphin Kings of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
Former head coach Paul Maurice resigned earlier this season, and under interim coach Dave Lowry, the Jets failed to reach the postseason. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said Lowry can interview for the full-time job, but it sounds as though the club will move on from him.
This is a team in saying need of a reset. Maurice never could take the Jets deep into the postseason, and the roster is flawed. It seemed as though the message grew stale.
Trotz has long been lauded for understanding how to keep his message fresh. The 59-year-old is a proven winner, and as a proud Manitoban, he would bring some much-needed excitement back to the fanbase.
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Where do the Islanders go next?
When Trotz left Washington, he was replaced by assistant coach Todd Reirden. The Islanders could choose to go in a similar direction with Lane Lambert, Trotz’s longtime right-hand man. Lambert has long been viewed as an up-and-coming coach, and some have wondered why he doesn’t already have a head-coaching job.
Lambert, as well as the rest of the staff, is still under contract with the club, but Lamoriello said the new coach will get the final say on personnel. Lambert should be an option, but his time with Trotz dates back a decade to the Nashville Predators. Reirden didn’t quite have the history that Lambert has.
One name to keep an eye on is Mike Babcock. This would be questionable given the allegations of abuse toward players that emerged after Babcock was fired from the Toronto Maple Leafs. Lamoriello worked with Babcock in Toronto, though, and he has gone back to the same coaching well on a few occasions (Jacques Lemaire, anyone?), so there is a familiarity.