When the New York Islanders hired head coach Barry Trotz in 2018, they looked to elevate themselves as a team. Trotz, one of the best and long-standing coaches in the NHL, was meant to be the catalyst that changed the team for the better. And so far, he has. In his first three seasons as head coach, the Islanders have made the playoffs. They have developed an identity that they have used effectively against their opponents.
But after a cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Semifinals last year, they have regressed tremendously so far this season. They are 20 points behind the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. Despite games in hand, with only so much of the season left, it looks as if the Islanders will miss the playoffs. It would be their first time since Trotz took over.
With many of the players from last season returning for this season, who’s to blame for the regression? Should Trotz be on the hot seat for the team’s performance? If so, just how hot should his seat be?
Is it Trotz’s Fault?
When things go badly for a team, the blame almost always falls on the leader. They make the most important decisions, they are the face of the team and they usually take responsibility for poor performances. With that in mind, Trotz is the easy target for the Islanders’ underperformance so far this season.
From a bigger picture, it makes sense. The Isles’ retained most of the players from last year’s team while also adding a couple of pieces. The only notable additions they made were signing Zdeno Chara and Zach Parise. Besides those moves, they also extended the contracts of multiple players, including Ryan Pulock, Ross Johnston and Ilya Sorokin. After such a great run last season, it makes sense that the Isles didn’t feel the need to add a lot more.
So if this team did so well last season, what’s going on now? It’s possible to put the blame on Trotz, who has tinkered with the Isles’ lines for a variety of reasons. At the same time, he hasn’t been able to inspire consistency or offensive power in a team so desperately in need of both. On paper, it looks as if Trotz is the reason why the Isles have played so poorly.
Or Is Trotz Innocent?
Maybe Trotz isn’t to blame after all. Heck, he just won his 900th game.
But if you take a deeper dive, you’ll see that Trotz isn’t the only one to blame. The Islanders’ season started on a 13-game road trip as they waited for UBS Arena to open. From there, they’ve dealt with injuries, COVID-related absences and postponements. They have had few opportunities to generate any sort of consistency. As a result, they find themselves seemingly out of playoff contention with about a month-and-a-half of games left.
On top of that, perhaps due to Trotz’s tinkering, the offense has been mediocre for most of the season so far. In fact, the Isles rank towards the bottom of the league in total goals scored. While their defense has been better, you can’t win games if you’re not scoring goals. Recently, however, things have picked up. The Isles are on a two-game win streak, having scored 11 goals across those two games. Specifically, Brock Nelson has been on a tear; he has a point in each of his last five games, including a goal in each of his last four games.
Even if things do start to get better, however, it may already be too late.
Hot or Cold?
Based on how the rest of the season has fared and the underlying stats, I don’t think Trotz should be the target for the Islanders’ mediocre season so far. They’ve dealt with too many inconsistencies and have not been able to generate any valuable momentum. On top of that, the players just haven’t performed at the same level that they did last season. Regression is natural sometimes–you can’t always expect players to play at a high, consistent level all the time.
With that in mind, I think Trotz’s seat is lukewarm. While it’s not flaming hot, I think he understands that there are certain expectations around this team and I think he’s already looking for ways to correct them. The trade deadline could bring some reinforcements and the Isles could always make more offseason moves. Even if the Isles miss the playoffs this season, they will have still made them in each of their last three seasons. And, fortunately enough, they stand in a pretty good position to revamp and make a playoff run next season.
So don’t worry, Coach Trotz. Your seat is safe–for now.