“Change the culture,” Lou Lamoriello said, and Barry Trotz echoed a few weeks later, when both arrived as the new regime guiding the New York Islanders.
“Awwww crap, John Tavares is gone,” the entire fanbase said 10 days later.
“And how on earth are these signings supposed to help?” many of us lamented, as names like Leo Komarov, Valtteri Filppula and Tom Kuhnhackl rolled across the wire.
But after Lamoriello and Trotz made the media rounds today — as one does, to take back control of the message, and here we are falling in line — it sounds like the latter moves are all about the first point:
The Islanders haven’t been able to land the prime names they’d need to complement nor, as it turns out, replace Tavares. But they are intent on having a cultural foundation in place for when more, younger, better players arrive at the NHL level.
The first part of this cultural shift is to make sure the existing players do not dwell on the departure of the star and captain who played with the Isles from 2009-2018. Here’s Lamoriello talking about that today on SiriusXM NHL:
“He’s been an exceptional player for the Islanders and is a quality player. But he now is with another team, so that’s the past.
”What we’re doing right now is trying to get knowledge of who we are, that (includes) myself, and learning more about each and every one of the players we have here. We’ll get Barry and I and our staff, we’ll get prepared for next year.”
It sounds like Lamoriello believes they have to assess what they have, including going through the season with many of them, to help determine who can be built around and who must be discarded.
Building a Team, Bringing Back Martin
He added that probably half the team he inherited will still be with the Isles by next year — which sounds like a lot of turnover, but he was comparing it to Toronto, where he had “maybe 12 or 13” survivors from the 50 or so players he inherited.
“So it’s totally different” from Toronto, he said — but in a good way. He doesn’t think this turnaround will take long. He thinks this year’s draft was one of the best he’s ever been a part of.
Regardless, he’s going to keep hammering the point about building a “team”:
Individual players win games. Teams win championships. I don’t think we can look any further than what Vegas did this past year. How they were able to accomplish the success they had, by a group of individuals coming together. You need the foundation and culture right from the start to ever have success.
He was asked about bringing Matt Martin back and the old “best fourth line in hockey” with Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck. He said he remembered them from his New Jersey days and agreed, “but that was several years ago. I don’t think we can expect what they did several years ago today. It wouldn’t be fair to the players or the coaches.”
But they do have an identity, he said. They are competitive. “We’ll see how they fit, but it’s about what they can do within the framework of the team.”
Lamoriello: 'I think Robin Lehner is a unique case and a unique situation in many cases ... hopefully our coaching staff can get him back to the form he was at. He's determined to get himself back in the forefront.' #Isles— Jon Lane (@JonLaneNHL) July 5, 2018
To that end, Trotz was also on SiriusXM NHL sharing thoughts and news that reflect both of those imperatives, moving past Tavares and building a culture.
First, on moving on from Tavares:
“I’ve talked to every player on the roster last year and every player that’s been added so far, talking about some things I expect. We’re making some good headway.
What’s been a blessing, the players are just getting to know me as a person and a coach, but when John made his decision, I can’t tell you how many players texted me, ‘You know what, we’re going to be just fine. We’re gonna miss John, but we have lots of pieces here and we are going to get it done as a collective group.’ That is a sign of a team that understands its situation, understands it needs to have a collective mindset, a team mindset, not an individual one. That’s a huge step for any organization going forward.”
Nice. Good sign.
Trotz referenced his own recent experience in Washington, about how “the strength is in the group.” He pointed to how everyone expected the Caps to win the Cup a few years ago, but you turn around and it’s this years group, with more rookies thrown in, that gets it done.
“I look at the good young players the Islanders have. This league is getting younger. ... The future is really bright for the Islanders. We’re right around the corner of doing something great. ... Barzal, the good young players coming up in the system.
“It’s not always the best team that always wins. It’s the team that plays the best. The depth we’ve added is better than the team has had in a while. We’re going to play a real structured system in terms of our work ethic, our tempo, our ability to check. We’re going to cut the goals against down and we’re going to win some hockey games.
“We’re going to develop some great people and build a great culture. ... Lou and myself, we have a lot of experience, the commitment is very high. I would tell everyone on the Island, we’re going to put something together real quick here.”
They’re the right things to say. They need to be said. It’s still good to hear them.
Also: Trotz on Ho-Sang
He was asked about young players who can move up, and Joshua Ho-Sang in particular:
“I’ve spent a couple of hours already with Josh. We talked about his game, his future, what he wants to do, what I expect, things that we can improve. Some things that are said about Josh, he’s a talented, talented young man. He sees the game a little differently than some people. And I think getting a little balance, dialogue with a young man like that, the upside is tremendous. He has NHL skill and NHL ability. ...
“From my standpoint there are certain expectations we’ll have for him on and off the ice, but I think he realizes certain things in the past that may have gotten him in trouble, that’s just a young man who is just growing up. I think he’s done a lot of growth, from what I understand from the coaching staff. I talked to him, and to me it’s finding what makes him go, what makes him tick, it’s on us. He’s a tremendous talent, put him in the lineup because he has speed, he has skill, it’s just getting all the pieces in the right order for a young man who has the ability to play in the NHL, no question about that.”
So, for now at least, you can figure the Islanders are ready to see what they have in Ho-Sang...and every other player already under control.