(This story was written by Andrew Fantucchio and first appeared on our sister publication NYI Hockey Now)
East Meadow, NY – Barry Trotz and the New York Islanders found each other when they needed to most.
In the summer of 2018, fresh off of winning a Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals, Trotz was suddenly out of a job. Meanwhile, the Islanders felt as far from sniffing a championship as possible when franchise cornerstone John Tavares left the team in free agency for the Toronto Mape Leafs.
Once Trotz came aboard, not only did he help the Islanders carry on without Tavares, but he also proved they were greater than the sum of their parts all along. In three straight seasons, Trotz led the Islanders to the playoffs and reached the conference finals in back-to-back years.
“He was instrumental in instilling a belief in ourselves and that we are a very capable group,” Cal Clutterbuck told Hockey Now. “We all had a good idea that we might have been capable, but the things that he was able to do when he came in really showed us how to go about things and how to have success within this group.”
The Islanders had as much of an impact on Trotz as he did on them.
Now, in his first year as the general manager of the Nashville Predators, Trotz is using his experiences from coaching the Islanders to help him fulfill the responsibilities of his new position.
“I think it gave him the ability to step back and realize that you can have a set way of playing, but to then let the players have a bit more freedom as long as you have the personnel to do so,” Nashville Hockey Now‘s Clay Brewer said.
“He is evolving. Maybe not as if he was on the bench, but he’s loosening the reins and trying to adapt to the new style of the NHL. That’s why he brought in Andrew Brunette to be the head coach. He’s the complete opposite of everything that Barry Trotz stands for.”
Trotz’s standards and philosophies — the very ones he’s using to help guide him in his first season as Predators GM — still exist within the Islanders’ facility today. After all, current Islanders head coach Lane Lambert was an assistant under Trotz for over a decade in Nashville.
“They’re different individuals, for sure,” Clutterbuck said. “I think you can tell that Lane has spent a lot of time with Barry in the way he handles some situations. I see a little bit of Barry’s methods in Lane at times.”
Although the foundation of the relationship between Trotz and Lambert is built on hockey, they can no longer talk about it like they once could now that they’re opponents.
“We talk about families and things like that,” Lambert told reporters in Nashville Saturday morning. “The hockey part of it is sort of secondary. We’re not on the same bench now, but we also spent a lot of time together, family-wise. I don’t know if it’s that weird of an adjustment. We can talk about hockey generically, and we certainly do that, too.”
With the Islanders playing the Predators Saturday night at Bridgestone Arena, it’ll be the first time they’ve encountered Trotz since he was fired two years ago.
It’s not the ideal circumstances for a reunion, but both sides can find solace in knowing they wouldn’t be where they are today without each other.
“The best thing that Barry brought with him was his daily messages and his ability to really bring a group together,” Mathew Barzal said. “He’s got a special knack for that.”