During an unexpected midseason stint in which Lane Lambert filled in for the absent Barry Trotz, Lou Lamoriello instructed him to treat the Islanders’ coaching job as if it were his own.
As a result, it’s now Lambert’s job on a full-time basis.
“It’s a good day,” Lambert, 57, said on Monday after his promotion from associate coach to the Islanders’ 18th head coach. “Something that I have been preparing for for a long time throughout many years in the game and many years as a coach. There’s a level of excitement for sure. Barry and I have worked a long time together and there’s so many things that he’s done that I have learned from.”
After he dismissed Trotz on May 9 after four seasons, it took Lamoriello, the team’s president and general manager, exactly a week to conclude that he didn’t need to go far to find a “new voice” behind the bench.
In addition to four seasons as Trotz’s associate coach with the Islanders, Lambert spent four seasons as Trotz’s assistant with the Capitals — winning the Stanley Cup in 2018 — and first joined Trotz’s staff with the Predators in 2011.
“Once the decision was made to make a coaching change, then the total focus was on who would be the best individual to lead this team to where I thought we can get and should get,” Lamoriello said. “Lane, without question, was on top of that list from my experiences with him over the past four years and, in particular, working with him for over two weeks when he was the head coach.”
Lambert coached the Islanders to a 3-2 overtime win over the Oilers at UBS Arena on Jan. 1 after Trotz’s mother died, and then a 3-2 win over the visiting Devils on Jan. 13 and a 2-0 loss to the visiting Capitals on Jan. 15 with Trotz in COVID-19 protocol. He also ran practices during that stretch.
What stood out? “The way Lane operated and the different things that he did during that period of time,” Lamoriello said. “I prefaced when he became the interim coach to coach as if he were coaching from Day 1 of the season and not just trying to do the same things that were done prior to him. I was extremely impressed with how he handled each and every situation.”
Lambert said that when he was fired, Trotz expressed the hope that his longtime lieutenant would get the job. On Monday, Lambert relayed that Trotz said he was “thrilled” that he would be the successor.
Lambert, who played 293 NHL games for the Red Wings, Rangers and Quebec Nordiques from 1983-89, has not been a bench boss 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.
He takes the Islanders’ job with an obvious mandate to not only return them to the postseason but to again be a Stanley Cup contender after back-to-back trips to the NHL semifinals in 2020 and 2021.
The Islanders lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Lightning both times. That fueled high expectations for this season, the Islanders’ first at UBS Arena, but they went 37-35-10 and failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2018, the season before Lamoriello and Trotz joined the organization.
Lamoriello said the rest of the Islanders’ coaching staff — assistants Jim Hiller and John Gruden, director of goaltending Mitch Korn and goalie coach Piero Greco — remain under contract but that he and Lambert will evaluate whether changes are needed.
Meet the new boss
Name: Lane Lambert
Hometown: Melfort, Saskatchewan
NHL coaching resume: Islanders associate coach 2018-22; Capitals assistant coach 2014-18; Predators assistant coach 2011-14
NHL playing career: Red Wings’ second-round pick in 1983; 283 regular-season games for the Red Wings, Rangers and Quebec Nordiques as a forward from 1983-89 with 58 goals, 65 assists and 521 penalty minutes.
Stanley Cups: One, with Capitals in 2018.
Scouting report: Lambert ran an Islanders’ penalty-kill unit that improved in each of his four seasons as the team’s associate coach, ranking fourth in the NHL this season. Players have raved about his attention to detail, his intensity and also his listening ability. He is well respected around the NHL for his hockey acumen. He’s much more tight-lipped publicly than his predecessor, Barry Trotz, with whom he’s closely associated. His first job is to show he’s his own coach.