The NHL’s coaching carousel, which spins faster every season, took another turn on Monday, with the New York Islanders hiring a new head coach, and the Vegas Golden Knights firing theirs.
On Long Island, the Isles promoted Lane Lambert, who served under now-former coach Barry Trotz as an assistant coach this past season. In Las Vegas, the Golden Knights dismissed Peter DeBoer after three years at the helm. Both the firing of Trotz and DeBoer are relative shockers, since both had some degree of success behind the bench two years ago: DeBoer led the Golden Knights to the Conference Final in 2019-20, his first year with the franchise; Trotz had steered the Islanders to the Conference final that same season, his second with the organization.
Unfortunately for them, the NHL has become a hyper-expectant business for coaches, with teams under immense pressure to produce, and produce in a hurry and consistently. And that pressure will exist immediately for Lambert, and for the person who replaces DeBoer in Vegas.
Lambert has to figure out a way to get the Isles back into the post-season mix after the team missed the playoffs this season. It will not be easy. The Islanders will be challenged by this year playoff teams from the Metropolitan Division – The New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes – will vie once again for a playoff berth, and the Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils and Columbus Blue Jackets intend to ice improved lineups. And the Isles are currently committed to 18 players for next season, with only $ 12 million in salary cap room to improve. GM Lou Lamoriello probably won’t let that fact stop him from being active on the trade market this summer – the bottom part of his defense corps needs a good deal of help – and it will be on Lambert to make it all work, right off the bat, and consistently throughout the year.
Meanwhile, the Golden Knights may well end up hiring Trotz to replace DeBoer. Vegas has been a demanding organization from its inception. In their five years of existence, the Golden Knights had two head coaches – DeBoer, who replaced current Rangers coach Gerard Gallant, the man who won a Jack Adams Award with Vegas – and now they’re onto their third in six years.
If that seems excessive churn-and-burn on Vegas’ behalf, that’s because it is. Nobody says you can not win a Cup by changing coaches on the regular, but it does not look like a positive for the Golden Knights. It looks like they’re getting a bit overexcited. Missing the playoffs for the first time, as Vegas did this year, is not, in and of itself, a fireable offense. And what is this saying to the NHL coaching community? The cutthroat, zero-sum nature of the business, is accepted by coaches, but this is beginning to become a little much.
Meanwhile, Trotz is sitting back, waiting for the playoffs to shake out to a bigger degree before he accepts new work. As a Stanley Cup winner, he has some leverage, but it’s entirely likely he’s offered a two-year deal rather than a long-term one. That is the trend for most NHL teams in this Era of Ficalness. It’s a seller’s market, and not even someone with the pedigree Trotzs has can wave a wand and conjure up a four-or-five-year deal.
Trotz could choose Vegas as his next coaching gig, or he could choose a different team – the Winnipeg Jets, for instance. He and DeBoer have found out first-hand how quickly time flies in the modern-day NHL coach’s career. The carousel spins harder each year, it seems like. And now, even two years can be considered “long term”.