How Islanders Coach Barry Trotz Is Attempting to Break Systemic Mediocrity

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How Islanders Coach Barry Trotz Is Attempting to Break Systemic Mediocrity

Courtesy of Flickr

Courtesy of Flickr

Courtesy of Flickr

Courtesy of Flickr

Chris Hennessy, Contributing Writer

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The “Drive for Five” was a slogan that the 1983–84 New York Islanders used throughout their season as a rallying cry on their march toward a fifth straight Stanley Cup. The car ran out of gas, and the drive fell just short, losing in the Cup final to the Edmonton Oilers. Now, the infancy stages of season 36 of the Drive for Five are underway, and the man at the helm gives the fanbase as much confidence as they’ve had since the beginning of the drive.

That man is Barry Trotz, the second-year Islanders coach who has a winning pedigree matched by few in the history of the game. The 2018–19 season saw him win his second Jack Adams award for coach of the year after leading an Islander group who lost their Captain to 103 points, and a series sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Trotz was the coach of the Washington Capitals’ AHL affiliate Baltimore Skipjacks/Portland Pirates (they moved mid-tenure) from 1992–97, winning one Calder Cup championship along the way. It was in 1997 when Capitals general manager David Poile took the same position with the expansion Nashville Predators and took Trotz along to be his first coach. Trotz was in Nashville for the first 15 years of the Predators, making the playoffs on multiple occasions, and making the Preds one of the more successful expansion franchises when they first started out.

From there, Trotz took a job that was known for extreme turnover in recent years, as he became head coach of Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. His first season was 2014–15, and it was clear from the start that he had won over the locker room. Ovechkin appeared to be happier and was playing harder on both ends of the ice, something coaches had struggled to get him to do for his entire career.  His first three years in Washington saw regular-season success, 100+ points in each season, but playoff failure, losing in the second round each year.

Finally, in his fourth season, they broke through and defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins, who had beaten them the previous two years, in the second round and defeated Vegas in the Cup final. Trotz, however, resigned from his head coach position, citing a contract dispute.

This left hockey’s hottest commodity on the market. After an abysmal 2017–18 season, the Islanders fired general manager Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight and hired former Devils and Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello in May, and he convinced Trotz to come to the Island in June, shortly after he lifted the Cup. This was a sign for Islander fans that maybe the cycle of mediocrity they had all been stuck in was finally broken. A winning combination was running the franchise. After a 103-point season last year, the Isles faithful have every reason to be optimistic for season 36 of the drive. Not since the great Al Arbor has there been someone so competent behind the bench. The defense has improved dramatically, from worst in the league under Weight to the best last season.

The Islanders have been mediocre for an entire generation, and finally, they have a man to break that cycle.