Let’s start here with Barry Trotz so nothing can be misunderstood about the intent of this column:
The Islanders’ coach, headed for the Hall of Fame shortly after his career ends, has an impeccable reputation for a reason. He earns and deserves respect — from his players, his bosses, the media and within the community — because he treats others with the utmost respect.
Flat out, Trotz is on the opposite end of the spectrum from the nasty allegations of verbal and physical abuse directed at colleagues Bill Peters, Mike Babcock and Marc Crawford.
And yet Trotz surely will be affected by the fallout of what’s hung over the NHL like a cloud since Nov. 25, when former player Akim Aliu accused Peters of using racist language.
Peters was forced to resign as the Flames’ coach. The Maple Leafs already had fired Babcock for performance-related issues when the story came out that he had asked then-rookie Mitch Marner to rank his teammates in terms of their effort level, then broke Marner’s confidence by revealing the list to the team. Former player Sean Avery, no choirboy, said Crawford kicked him on the bench. Crawford, for now a Blackhawks assistant coach, was placed on leave.
There have been calls for the NHL to adopt a written code of conduct. Even without one going forward, everybody will be under the microscope.
Trotz understandably was very careful about his comments when he was privately approached by Newsday and asked what kind of scrutiny he expects all coaches to be under now.
“I’m not answering that,” Trotz said at first. “Let the general managers figure that out.”
Trotz did relent somewhat, explaining his philosophy about his working relationships with players.
He added that he believes “they’re going to put things in place” when it comes to guidelines.
“You just go about doing what you do, do it as correctly as you can and that’s what we can do,” Trotz said. “We’re in a partnership with the players as coaches and we’ve got to make them better. The thing that I like to do is try to find out as much about the players and their families.”
Again, Trotz has an impeccable reputation because he does things the right way.
But he and all other coaches will face more scrutiny now because others didn’t.
Fighting has steadily decreased in the NHL over the decades, and teams no longer feel the need to dress an enforcer — or enforcers — to act as a deterrent. The Islanders took six fighting majors in their first 27 games, three for hulking Ross Johnston, two for Casey Cizikas and one for defenseman Scott Mayfield.
Josh Bailey has fought five times in 12 NHL seasons, according to hockeyfights.com, and one of his two bouts last season was brought up to him before Monday night’s 4-1 win in Detroit.
He had dropped the gloves with the Red Wings’ Dylan Larkin during the Islanders’ previous visit to Little Caesars Arena on Dec. 12, 2018, in response to defenseman Niklas Kronwall’s crushing hit on captain Anders Lee.
“It’s not just me, I think we’ve got a lot of confidence in this room,” Bailey said. “You don’t always want it to be Johnner or Marty [Martin], and it seems like Z has had a few. You want to know that other guys are willing to do it. I think that’s certainly the case with our group. There’s plenty of guys that step up to protect a teammate. That sort of thing is contagious to the room.”
Picked from the pod
Minnesotan Brock Nelson’s middle name is Christian. As in uncle Dave Christian, who played for Herb Brooks’ Miracle on Ice squad that won the gold medal at the 1980 Winter Olympics. Or grandfather Bill Christian and great-uncle Roger Christian, who played for Team USA as it won gold in 1960. Or great-uncle Gordon Christian, who won a silver medal for Team USA in 1956.
Nelson was a guest on Episode 10 of Island Ice, Newsday’s Islanders podcast. He discussed growing up in such a famous hockey family.
“It’s pretty special because, growing up, you probably didn’t realize it at the time,” Nelson said. “You’re in love with the game of hockey and you’re playing all the time. But you didn’t realize the importance of the Miracle on Ice and that even my grandpa and my great-uncle, going back to ’60 and winning the gold and now growing up and seeing that only two teams have been able to pull off that accomplishment. It’s pretty special to have that in the family and they’re just two guys that I looked up to as a kid as role models. Not as hockey players but just as people. So it means a lot for the family.”
Bill and Roger Christian also helped found the Christian Brothers hockey stick manufacturing company.
“I remember running around the factory after school for hours and playing with any stick or any blade I could get my hand on,” Nelson said.
Back to back?
The Islanders had allowed the fewest goals in the NHL through Friday’s play with 65 after their 196 goals against led the league last season. The same team leading the NHL in that category in consecutive seasons has been done four times by only two organizations since the NHL-WHA merger in 1979 expanded the league to 21 teams:
Canadiens — 1980-81 (232 goals against) and 1981-82 (223)
Canadiens — 1986-87 (241), 1987-88 (238) and 1988-89 (218)
Devils — 1996-97 (182) and 1997-98 (166)
Devils — 2002-03 (166 — tie with Flyers) and 2003-04 (164)