Barry Trotz, from his first season with the Islanders, has always insisted Lane Lambert deserves to be an NHL head coach.
And perhaps this interim stint as Lambert fills in for Trotz, absent for personal reasons, will help again thrust him into the interview process when this season concludes. But the Islanders associate coach is not focused on what might happen.
"I don’t wonder about it at all," Lambert said after leading the Islanders’ practice on Tuesday at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow. "The focus is right here, right now, as it always has been. That’s just the bottom line for me is we take it day by day."
The Islanders do not play again until hosting the Devils on Jan. 13.
Lambert, 57, who played 283 games in the NHL for the Red Wings, Rangers and Quebec Nordiques from 1983-89, is in his 11th season working with Trotz. That includes three seasons with the Predators, four with the Capitals, capped by winning the Stanley Cup in 2018, and now four with the Islanders.
He interviewed for the Avalanche’s top job in 2016 and again with the Ducks in 2019 and annually is listed among potential top candidates.
But he hasn’t run a bench on a full-time basis since leading the Milwaukee Admirals, the Predators’ AHL affiliate, to a 178-103-15-24 mark and four straight playoff appearances from 2007-11.
"I thought it was pretty quick," Lambert said of readjusting to running the Islanders’ bench on Saturday. "It’s been so long that, to look back on that, it’s hard to remember what it felt like. It wasn’t too bad. Barry and I work together and we talk a lot as the game is going on so I felt like it was OK to transition from what I was doing to Saturday."
Defenseman Scott Mayfield, who works directly with Lambert as part of the penalty-killing unit, said the temporary transition from Trotz has been "seamless" and described the tempo at practices as "really high."
"The biggest thing is he’s extremely detailed," Mayfield said "Every little thing, whether it’s breaking down video or the details of practice he picks up on. He’ll call you out if you’re not doing that. It’s accountability with him. It’s your work ethic."
A coach getting the chance to interview for an NHL job usually depends upon his team’s success. But potential employers may factor how Lambert helped the Islanders navigate through a stop-and-start schedule, a spate of injuries and COVID-19 outbreaks while trying to stay competitive.
Currently, the Flyers, Jets and Chicago all have interim coaches and other jobs are likely to open as well.
Notes & quotes: The NHL announced four changes to the Islanders’ schedule. Their postponed game at Philadelphia on Nov. 30 will now be played on Jan. 18 and their originally scheduled home game against the Blue Jackets that night has been postponed. Also, the Islanders and Maple Leafs will switch home dates, now playing at UBS Arena on Jan. 22 and at Toronto on April 17… Lambert said there was no update on Ryan Pulock’s potential return to practice. The top-pair defenseman (long-term injured reserve/lower body) was hurt on Nov. 15 and initially expected to miss four to six weeks.