For the first time in 35 years, the Islanders will have the reigning Stanley Cup champion coach behind their bench. That they are willing to pay him and that he was willing to take the job says everything about how far the franchise has come in the past two months.
Barry Trotz, the most accomplished coach the Islanders have had since Al Arbour, represents a whole new professional, aggressive approach. He also adds to it. The man who turned the expansion Predators into a perennial contender and turned the enigmatic Alex Ovechkin into a champion is the first major addition in Lou Lamoriello’s run. His arrival reinforces the point that the Islanders mean business.
“Lou is going to do what it takes to win. That got me excited right away,” Trotz said during a conference call Thursday afternoon.
The big numbers in his contract got him excited, too. That in itself was a breakthrough for the Islanders. For a good while, coaching has been a position in which the Islanders skimped. In fairness to Garth Snow, it is likely that the former general manager never had authorization to spend much on a coach.
Ten years ago, on July 16, 2008, to be exact, this observer wrote a piece headlined “Quenneville Should Be Next Islanders Coach.” At the time, Joel Quenneville had won more than 400 games with the Blues and Avalanche. But there was no way he was going to end up here. When the Islanders have gone coach shopping in the past 10 years, they have looked only in the rookie bin: Scott Gordon, Jack Capuano, Doug Weight.
Now they have bought from the top shelf. They brought in someone who knows the ropes by heart, someone who used to talk shop with Quenneville (a three-time Cup-winning coach with the Blackhawks) when the two were together with the American Hockey League’s Baltimore Skipjacks. Quenneville was a veteran defenseman on his way out, Trotz was a young assistant coach on the way up.
In those days, the Skipjacks assigned the assistant coach to room on the road with the radio broadcaster. That season, it was a Long Island kid named Kenny Albert.
“What I always tell people is that I’ve met and spoken with probably hundreds of coaches in various sports, and to me, he is the most down-to-earth, regular type of guy of any coach or manager I’ve ever met,” said Albert, now a network announcer in baseball and hockey, frequent Knicks voice and Rangers radio play-by-play man.
“I haven’t been around him on a day-to-day basis since 1992, but from what you hear from the players he has coached in Nashville and Washington, he’s still the same way.”
The broadcaster can attest that Trotz is as good with the whys and wherefores as he is with X’s and O’s. He taught Albert it’s OK to wear contact lenses in the shower. He fixed a videotape machine after working on it until 4 a.m. in their room. After Albert once tweaked him about flubbing lines in an interview, Trotz got even by arranging for the young announcer to be picked up and interrogated by Canadian police.
Trotz is the right man for this job because he is the right man for any job. He won a junior hockey title with his hometown Dauphin (Manitoba) Kings (the last time the Islanders imported a former Dauphin King, Butch Goring, it worked out OK). Trotz flourished with an expansion team — putting up posters in the new NHL territory of Nashville, which has since become a hotbed. He won over Ovechkin in their first three-hour dinner. He won the Cup with a team that was a blend of veterans and younger players.
“There are a lot of questions now with the Islanders, as far as what the roster will look like, et cetera,” Albert said, “but I’m a huge fan of his and I think he’ll do a terrific job.”
Getting him here was a good job, and a sign that this is a new day.