Islanders Must Reinvent Themselves Under Lambert

With the offseason barely underway, the New York Islanders didn’t just change, they kicked the door down. General manager Lou Lamoriello fired head coach Barry Trotz in an unexpected move on May 9. A week later, the team announced that long-time Trotz assistant Lane Lambert would be taking over duties behind the bench. The Islanders also let go of two more coaches recently – assistants John Gruden and Jim Hiller. 

While changes will also be made to the roster, with necessary upgrades needed to both their offense and defense, the coaching strategy will also need an adjustment. I mentioned a coaching strategy change was necessary even with Trotz at the helm, but now the organization truly has a chance to reinvent itself under Lambert.

Islanders Must Focus on Balance

While hockey trades and roster updates are necessary, it will be just as important to see how Lambert can create better balance in the lineup and with the team’s style of play. The heavy defensive focus worked well for three seasons, and while the team got derailed for various and sundry reasons in 2021-22, it’s clear it’ll take more than an upgraded roster to get back into contention.

No one wants the Islanders to go back to their run-and-gun style of the pre-Lamoriello era, but it wouldn’t hurt for the pendulum to swing back the other way. Mathew Barzal needs a star winger to play with – maybe even two – but in order to get the most out of the roster upgrades, the offense needs to have a longer leash.

Lane Lambert, head coach of the New York Islanders (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In addition to a longer leash, the team as a whole needs to recommit themselves to the energetic, supportive style at both ends of the ice that made them so successful – something the Colorado Avalanche are doing in their quest for the 2022 Stanley Cup against the Tampa Bay Lightning. In the Avalanche’s Game 2, 7-0 shellacking of the Lightning on Saturday, you could see that their high-energy and constant support and positioning led to chances throughout a single shift.

Though many Islanders have a few more miles on them since they swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round in 2019, it’s a style that worked well for them and something they built on over the next two shortened seasons that led to back-to-back Conference Final appearances. Their defense was incredible over their last three playoff runs and regular seasons under Trotz, but that balance is what the team really needs to compete in today’s NHL.

Related: Islanders Options to Upgrade Offense

The Islanders’ defense, even with a few pieces missing at the moment, can be relied on heavily to do their job. Along with their sensational goaltender Ilya Sorokin, the Islanders’ back-end needs to recommit to what made them successful but also find ways to enhance their transition game to get the puck back up the ice to the forwards, something they struggled with mightily during the 2021-22 season. Noah Dobson is a bright spot in this regard, but he’ll need some help from current and yet-to-be-acquired defenders to really move the needle for the team.

Adding talent to the organization will make a difference, there’s no question about it. The team remains desperate for consistent offense, and that will be one of the most important factors in getting them back into the playoff conversation. Lambert will also have his hands full, refocusing the team and getting the group to be more balanced as they continue to be defensive stalwarts while finding ways to score more goals.

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