New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz admitted that he’ll never get over his team’s loss in the Eastern Conference Final to the Tampa Bay Lightning — just two wins shy of a Stanley Cup Final appearance — on Sunday afternoon as training camp opened up.
“You don’t lose it, you just have to park it and move on,” he said via Zoom. “On my death bed, that will be one of the visions that will go through my head.”
While he continues to push those memories down into the inner-most recesses of his mind, he and his largely unchanged Islanders are less than two weeks away from the start of the 56-game 2021 season.
“I think one of the things we’ve tried to do since we’ve gotten here is try and raise the expectations,” Trotz said. “Our expectation this year is the hope to take the next step.
“We didn’t win the Cup last year, so we’re not happy.”
The Islanders did little to tweak their roster, including acquiring a top-tier goal scorer to place at the wing of the first line and the power play. Cap issues played a part in that while resulting in the trading away for young defenseman Devon Toews.
For Trotz, it’s an opportunity to see if some of the younger players, like defenseman Noah Dobson and forwards Kieffer Bellows and Oliver Wahlstrom to make an impact in camp and win a spot on the opening-night roster.
“I think we’re going to look very similar… I think you’re going to see a young guy like a Noah Dobson jump in there,” Trotz said. “Hopefully, that’s the process we continue down. I expect us to continue to grow… Bellows and Wahlstrom, [we hope] they all continue to grow and continue to put more pressure on the existing group from last year to get regular minutes.”
That means no one on the roster is safe.
“We’re going to take the best team. If a veteran falls off and a younger guy displaced them, maybe that’s our decision right off the bat and we move forward,” Trotz said. “In this league, veteran players know there’s always a young guy pushing them and if they don’t, that’s on them.”
The Islanders’ cap issues, most notably, have impacted negotiations with star center Mathew Barzal — a restricted free agent who remains unsigned as training camp begins.
While teammates leadership and teammates alike are confident a deal will be done sooner rather than later, Trotz is prepared for any scenario.
“It does affect the group and so you ask other players to fill in that void and get a job done,” he said. “To me, it’s opportunity… those are the opportunities we’ve talked about. We know there’s going to be people in, people out… you have to go with it. We’ve been in that situation many times and we’ll continue to fill those holes if they’re there.”