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SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Barry Trotz's coaching experience gives Islanders an edge, even though COVID-19 bubble is new for everyone

Islanders head coach Barry Trotz and assistant Lane

Islanders head coach Barry Trotz and assistant Lane Lambert give their players instructions in the closing minutes of game 1 against the Washington Capitals on August 12, 2020 in Toronto. Credit: Getty Images/Elsa

There is no chapter on this in the Coaching 101 textbook, and there is no one alive (or dead) who has had quite this work experience before.

So in that sense the Islanders have no particular advantage being coached by future Hall of Famer Barry Trotz in their first-round playoff series against Todd Reirden, his former assistant, and the Capitals, his former team.

Before this month, none of Trotz’s 121 playoff games as an NHL head coach had been conducted in a COVID-19 bubble in Toronto, as had none of Reirden’s seven.

But let’s be real here: The Islanders absolutely do have an edge in this unique postseason being led by team president Lou Lamoriello, the world’s most buttoned-up, i-dotting, t-crossing sports executive, and Trotz.

That is partly a function of Trotz’s experience – he ranks third all-time with 1,674 regular-season games coached – but also his personality. He is both old school and flexible, both fiery when needed and calm as a default option.

So far, all that has served him well, having led the Isles to a four-game elimination of the Panthers in a qualifying round series and a 1-0 lead over the Capitals going into Friday night’s Game 2.

“As far as Barry and Lou, the way they handle things,” Cal Clutterbuck said, “it’s just about keeping our focus and knowing what’s important, controlling what we can control.

“Obviously, it’s unusual for everyone, and the energy spent on the negativity of the situation, if there is any, is wasted energy.”

On one hand, the bubble is a coach’s dream, in that it erases most non-hockey activity from the players’ minds. On the other hand, there are other curveballs outside a coach’s control.

Chief among them is scheduling. Exhibit A arrived on Tuesday, when the Lightning and Blue Jackets played five overtimes, kicking the Bruins and Hurricanes clear to Wednesday morning.

Then that game went two overtimes, delaying the Islanders and Caps by an hour. If it had gone much longer, the Islanders could well have been moved to Thursday morning.

“You don’t get upset by it,” Trotz said of the uncertainty. “I think everyone understands that in this new world in 2020 that nothing’s for sure right now, and the time that you start or when you’re going to play is not for sure.

“So I think everybody has had the patience to adjust in the last three months for a number of different reasons and it’s made us more adaptable that way.”

Trotz said he is trying to keep things “as normal as possible,” and at the same time not be thrown off by changes out of his control.

“Every day, try to get a little bit of sunlight, get out on the patio for a little bit, get a little fitness in and get your work done and then watch a lot of hockey, like everybody else,” he said.

This is an interesting phase of Trotz’s career. He built a franchise from scratch in Nashville, won a Stanley Cup in Washington in 2018, then turned around the Islanders defense from sieve to iron curtain in one season.

But he has advanced past the second playoff round only once. If he can take these Islanders on a deep run and perhaps win a Cup, now or in the near future, it would elevate his status to a new level.

“It’s been a real great opportunity here to play for him and see him up close and personal,” said Andy Greene, a Devil for 14 seasons before he joined the Islanders in February.

“You can tell the experience he has. He’s been there, and I think it rubs off on us, too.”

Trotz certainly has been there, but neither he nor anyone else has been here. That’s 2020. Adapt and advance.

New York Sports