In just his second year on the Island, it is evident that head coach Barry Trotz has completely turned the tide of the New York Islanders. In just his first season with the Islanders, the reigning Stanley Cup champion took a team projected to finish at the bottom of the league standings to a team battling for the Stanley Cup. He is not the only coach in Islanders’ history, however, to completely flip the franchise around.
Prior to the 1973-74 NHL season, a man by the name of Al Arbour took over as the bench boss of the franchise. At the time, the Islanders were entering their second season of play as they just joined the league a year prior, winning only 12 games under two head coaches in year one. Arbour, who coached the St. Louis Blues prior to the Islanders, had a major challenge in front of him, but what he did was so amazing, it has never been repeated since.
In his first year as head coach with a weak team, he won just 19 games; however, in his second season as head coach, Arbour leads the Islanders to a 34-win season and a conference semifinals appearance against the Flyers which they lost in seven games. The Islanders would return to the semifinals in his third, fourth, and sixth years coaching the franchise, but they could not quite get over the hump. In his seventh year at the helm, the Islanders would finally win the Stanley Cup and begin a four-year dynasty.
The 19 straight playoff series wins by the Islanders from 1980-1984 is a record that will surely never be broken. The Al Arbour-lead Islanders were a juggernaut that took down any challenge in its way, but what made Arbour one of the greatest coaches in hockey history is how fast he was able to turn the Islanders from a laughing stock to a cup contender.
In his 19 years with the Islanders, Arbour only missed the playoffs four times. He made the conference semifinals 10 times, made the Stanley Cup finals five times and won the Stanley Cup four times. Following Arbour’s retirement, the Islanders once again became the laughing-stock of the NHL. The Islanders constantly finished at the bottom of the league standings and could not find their footing. Following Arbours’ retirement in 1994, it took the Islanders until 2016 to win their next playoff series against the Florida Panthers.
Many changes came for the Islanders prior to the start of the 2018-19 NHL season, the most important of which was the departure of superstar center and captain John Tavares who left after nine years with the team. The Islanders did make a major signing themselves, not in the form of a player, but in the form of a head coach fresh off a Stanley cup victory, Barry Trotz.
Trotz arrived on the Island days after giving the Capitals their first Stanley Cup in franchise history and expectations for Trotz were not large going into his first season with the Isles. In fact, they were expected to be the bottom of the league team. But Trotz had other ideas.
Last season, Trotz lead the Islanders to a 48-27-7 record and a first-round sweep over the Penguins, and in his second season as bench boss, Trotz has gotten off to yet another strong start. While the job Trotz is doing as head coach is undeniably amazing, is it fair to compare him to Al Arbour?
Both coaches took a franchise seemingly headed straight to the depths of the league, fixed them up, and took them to the top. With that being said, I don’t think it is time to compare the coaches yet. Arbour had 20 years and 1500 games in charge of the Islanders while Trotz only has just over 100. To compare the coaches now does not seem fair to Barry Trotz.
While the Islanders have seen a very large amount of struggle over the years, fans should be grateful they have had two of the best coaches the sport has ever seen grace the Island.