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Life in the Fast Lane: Lambert named Islanders head coach

The pun and hair game will be strong.

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Boston Bruins v New York Islanders - Game Four Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Islanders have named their successor to Barry Trotz. And it was the guy who’s been standing next to him for several seasons.

Lane Lambert had been a hot name for coaching openings from Colorado to Anaheim and a few other places. He’ll finally get his chance to be an NHL head coach as he steps into the position behind the Islanders bench, the team announced today.

“I had the opportunity to work with Lane over the past four years, which includes spending time with him on a one-on-one basis when he served as the interim Head Coach this past season,” Islanders President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello said. “In my opinion, he is the right person to coach this team.”

Lamoriello talked about his belief that the Islanders players “needed a new voice” after four mostly successful years under Barry Trotz. While Lambert’s “voice” technically isn’t Trotz’s, it’s fair to wonder just how new it will be for guys who have worked with him for the last four seasons.

On the call with reporters today, Lamoriello said that Lambert will have a distinctive voice, separate from that of Trotz, and that changing roles from head coach to assistant coach necessitates having your own opinions and ideas.

Lambert technically been the Islanders’ head coach before, when he filled in for Trotz for three games while Trotz was attending services for his mother, who passed away in January.

Trotz and Lambert go back even further, to the former’s time in Nashville. While with the Predators organization, Lambert coached their AHL team in Milwaukee and started building a reputation as a name to watch. The Admirals won two West Division titles under him. He was also an assistant coach for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers for one season, which is the kind of thing Pierre McGuire would think is uproariously funny while the rest of us can just find an amusing tidbit of trivia.

As a player, Lambert spent time with three teams, most notably the Red Wings, where he was roommates with a young Steve Yzerman. With an opening behind their bench and Yzerman now Detroit’s GM, there was a lot of speculation that Lambert could be ticketed for that job. Guess that’s off now.

Is this a good move or a lateral one? Only time will tell. It’s good that Lambert knows the players and they know him. But the players hoping for a “new voice,” to whatever extent they verbalized that to Lamoriello, may or may not have been hoping for a completely different voice. Even a new “voice” wasn’t going to suddenly abandon a lot of the fundamentals of defense that Trotz had preached so hard during his time here. But maybe this voice will be the one to magically unlock some consistent offensive performances from a roster that’s dying for some. (BTW this “voice” thing will never go away so get used to it).

In his breaking news article at The Athletic, Kevin Kurz voices a question I think a lot of us might have.

Kevin Kurz, Islanders beat writer: It seems evident that general manager Lou Lamoriello knew when he announced the Trotz firing last Monday that this was going to be the ultimate outcome, as there’s no way the team could have conducted a thorough head coaching search in just a week’s time.

Still, it seems odd to go to Trotz’s longtime assistant when Lamoriello said the team needed a “new voice” that was different from that of the third-winningest coach in NHL history and who helped the team overachieve in the 2020 and 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs.

In a 2019 piece at The Athletic, when he was up for the Anaheim job, Lambert was described as being a true pro and guy right on the cusp of being an NHL coach. He’s finally reached that goal. Let’s see what he does with it.

Former Admirals defenseman Nolan Yonkman likened Lambert to a certain coach who’s had success in his first year behind the bench.

“He’s kind of like (Rod) Brind’Amour when you watch him on the Carolina bench,” Yonkman said. “If you’re watching any of the Carolina series, where if Brind’Amour didn’t like a call he’d be able to talk to the refs and be able to focus back in again, Lane kind of would have that. He’d have that fire, that ‘wow’ fact. You can really snap a player back into place when you have that.”