The New York Islanders have lost their minds

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The silver lining, we suppose, is that at least the Islanders are noticeable for a few minutes. The other one, possibly if you’re really stretching for them, is that if the Isles are going to have a dinosaur GM that the game has passed by, they might as well have (another) coach who is also a dinosaur that the game has passed by.

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Over the weekend, the Islanders dismissed empty-suit Lane Lambert from behind their bench and hired Patrick Roy. Yep, that Patrick Roy, the one who wasn’t anything short of a disaster in Colorado while he challenged other coaches to fights or pulling his goalie with 10 minutes left or his bluster in the press to cover for his lack of know-how and his three playoff wins in three seasons. This is who the Islanders have turned to to save them.

But the Islanders have been on this course for a while, ever since they hired Lou Lamoriello, the Sith Lord who presided as the GM in 2018 over the Devils’ trap-and-kill-joy mini-dynasty of the late 1990s. He hasn’t done anything since those Devil Days around 2000, of course, but that didn’t stop the Isles from bringing him on because he lived not too far away, or at least used to. The Islanders had been able to delude themselves into thinking they were among the NHL’s aristocracy thanks to two conference final appearances in the joke seasons or bubbles of 2020 and 2021, as well as a first-round sweep of an aging Penguins team the year before that.

But other than some fluky playoff results in fluky circumstances, the Islanders have spent the rest of the time playing dire hockey either under Barry Trotz or Lambert, almost entirely reliant on their goaltending being great and Mathew Barzal being able to conjure just enough offense to make that goaltending count. While Lambert fell off the Trotz tree, the Isles remain a dreadful defensive team. Their xGA/60 is fifth-worst in the league, behind Anaheim and Ottawa, and ahead of such teams as Chicago, Montreal and San Jose, who aren’t trying to win. Most nights, Ilya Sorokin or Varlamov have been able to hang off the cliff and hang onto the rest of the team with their other hand to at least keep them in it despite all the structural problems.

It’s been this way for a while, and yet none of the Isles brass, especially Lamoriello, can recognize how the game is played now. Teams need d-men that can get up and go, and carry the puck out of their zone and through the neutral zone themselves. Maybe Adam Pelech or Noah Dobson can do that, but they’ve certainly never been given a license to do so. But the numbers don’t suggest they can.

Teams need a raft of forwards that can buzz around on the forecheck or with the puck. Lamoriello traded for Bo Horvat, which is all nice and good, but has also always prioritized making sure the fourth line of Matt Martin, Casey Czikas and Cal Clutterbuck are kept around. No team should ever prioritize their fourth line, ever. The Isles middle-six wingers are names like Hudson Fasching, Kyle Palmieri (whose main attraction for Lou is that he’s a Yank, apparently), Simon Holmstrom, and Julien Gauthier. Are these guys Lou found loitering at the LIRR station? We don’t know!

Even team linchpins Anders Lee and Brock Nelson are well into their 30s, and look increasingly out of place in a league that is always souping up, speed-wise. Under Trotz, then Lambert, and always under the unblinking and possibly undead eye of Lamoriello, the Isles have played a dump-and-chase, gum-up-the-neutral zone, wait-for-a-turnover style that neither prevents opponents from entering their zone with possession nor gets the Isles a lot of possession or chances in the other end. The game is too fast for all of that now.

And into all of this Lamoriello has introduced the chaos bomb that is Roy. Roy’s tenure in Colorado was marked by woeful defensive play and goalie Varlamov bailing them out as long as he can until it all breaks. Roy’s tenure went so well that as soon as it was over, GM Joe Sakic decided they needed to start completely over.

Roy has been coaching the team in the QMJHL that he owns, the Quebec Ramparts, and there probably isn’t a ton of pressure coaching a team that you own. The Ramparts have had back-to-back 100-point seasons and won the Memorial Cup last year, but coaching teenagers and coaching pros are two very different things, and Roy’s volcanic nature doesn’t tend to play well with adults after an initial grace period. Even John Tortorella has calmed it down in Philly and look how that’s going.

Roy may get the fans on his side with some quip in the press or yelling at the other bench to show just HOW MUCH HE CARES, but the Isles will still be playing a game more set for 2004 than 2024. And that’s not going to change with a management team that last experienced all their glory 20-30 years ago.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and on Bluesky @felsgate.bsky.social

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