Now it can be told: Around this time late last summer, before he had coached a single game with the Islanders, Barry Trotz was not sure he was up to the task.
“I wouldn’t tell you last year, but right before the season started, I was exhausted,” he said on Thursday as the Islanders reported for training camp. “I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can make it.’”
This was during a whirlwind that included winning a Stanley Cup with the Capitals, leaving the Caps, getting hired by the Islanders, moving to Long Island and attending his daughter’s wedding somewhere in the middle of it all.
Fortunately for him, he found what he called a “second wind” when the season began, felt “reinvigorated” by a new challenge, and nine months later was accepting the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s coach of the year.
It was a wild ride, but this time he welcomed a more mundane summer.
“If feels more regular, if you will, in terms of what you’ve gone through for a good portion of your career where you do get some time to take a breath and smell the roses,” he said. “Last year, I just kept going.”
Trotz is not the only one with a greater comfort level than in 2018. He symbolizes what was the dominant theme as a parade of players stopped to chat with reporters.
In a word: continuity. General manager Lou Lamoriello was able to keep the roster largely intact, re-signing most key free agents from a team that compiled 103 points and reached the second playoff round.
But it would not have mattered as much if the returning players were not returning to a familiar system.
“I’ve had a lot of coaching changes,” said Jordan Eberle, one of the re-signed free agents. “To have that coming into camp makes it a little bit easier. There’s no new terminology. You know what to expect on the ice.”
Players know that Trotz will test them with a hard practice on Friday, and that he will keep at it. As amiable as the coach is, he also is old school in his approach.
So is his boss, who it is fair to say was pleased with how his coaching hire turned out last season.
“I think we’ve seen what we did know about him, but we found out a lot more as far as, to me, his total demeanor and composure through good times and bad times,” Lamoriello said. “You don’t have an opportunity to really know that until you’re working with a person.”
One of Trotz’s challenges will be fighting the flipside of continuity: complacency.
The Islanders in theory have an edge because they know and like one another. But that does not mean they simply can flip a switch and return to where they left off.
“We’re starting over,” said captain Anders Lee, another re-signed free agent.
Trotz cautioned there is no guarantee the Islanders can match their remarkable defensive statistics of last year, nor even those 103 points, given the improvement around them in the Metropolitan Division.
“We could be a better team and get less points,” he said.
But while he said the new season is a “clean slate,” he believes he and his staff set a sustainable tone.
“You talk about cultural foundations,” he said. “Everybody knows what structure we play with. Everybody knows the accountability that we look for. We play together. There’s a method to how we play and why we play.”
Trotz used some of his downtime to re-watch the Islanders’ eight playoff games — sweeping the Penguins, then being swept by the Hurricanes — and recalled the fun and excitement, which is why he would not mind a deep run that leads to another short, hectic summer in 2020.
“This year was a little more relaxed,” he said. “Trust me, I’d like to be busy again, soon.”