Take Connor McDavid off the roster of the Edmonton Oilers and things could get uglier in Edmonton. Remove Nikita Kucherov from Tampa Bay and the Lightning might fall back into the pack in the National Hockey League. Make Sidney Crosby an ex-Penguin and Pittsburgh might not even make the playoffs.
So it’s somewhat astonishing that the New York Islanders, a team that didn’t even make the playoffs last year, are in first place in the Metropolitan Division after losing their (by far) best player, John Tavares, to free agency last summer. On Groundhog Day they stood second overall in the Eastern Conference after finishing 11th last season.
So let’s cut to the chase: Islanders’ bench boss Barry Trotz is this year’s Coach of the Year. He also may be a miracle worker.
Trotz, a Dauphin, Man., native, is the rare coach who wins a Stanley Cup, as he did with Washington last season, and is not signed to a new contract. Trotz was making only $1.5 million with the Capitals and management there showed little interest in making him wealthier, Cup or no Cup. So he quit. Within four days he had signed with the Islanders for a reported $4 million per season. So far, it appears to be money well spent. The Islanders’ performance this year stands as testimony to his skills as a coach.
Instead of the Islanders looking to Tavares to carry the team, Trotz has a committee of lesser stars banding together to handle the offence. Last season’s rookie of the year Mathew Barzal had 45 points at the all-star break to lead the team, while Anders Lee, Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson and Jordan Eberle follow. Lee leads the team with eight power play goals and Eberle, the former Oiler, has five. Thomas Griess and Robin Lehner, not exactly Marty Brodeur and Patrick Roy, have been stellar, splitting the goaltending chores and stopping shots at an average .925 clip.
“Every night we have a feeling that there’s not much to worry about,” Lee told Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts. “We’re poised on the bench. Calm. If you stick to the plan and play the right way, you’re in a good spot. Getting production from different guys every night is a huge part of the morale. A lot of us believe in the guys in our room and who we have. The work we have done is validating that. It’s different. Things are different.”
Can Trotz’s magic continue? A playoff spot for the Islanders is almost assured, and Trotz does have a proven, and recent, playoff track record. The ‘No Tavares, no chance’ thoughts at the start of this season are looking a little silly right now.
• Greg Cote of the Miami Herald: “CBS rejected a Super Bowl ad from a medical cannabis company. Sponsors of the ad threatened to sue, then lost track of what they were mad about, got the munchies and fell asleep listening to Pink Floyd.”
• Cote again, on the leadup to the Super Bowl: “The NFL held a Salute To Service on Tuesday, billed as a “military appreciation” event. Prohibited items included umbrellas, coolers and Colin Kaepernick.”
• Norman Chad of the Washington Post, on his distaste for the New England football club: “The Patriots and their fans are so loathsome, I wish we could Brexit New England.”
• Chad again, on the Patriots’ QB: “(Tom) Brady is so unbeatable, when he had acne as a teenager, he sued Clearasil — and won.”
• Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle, about the Super Bowl ads: “Everyone watching the beer commercials will muse, ‘How come this stuff doesn’t make me young and beautiful and hip? I must not be drinking enough of it.’”
• Ostler again, reminiscing about the 1988 super Bowl halftime show: “The 1988 halftime show featured the Rockettes and Chubby Checker, a man with three career hits: ‘The Twist,’ ‘Let’s Twist Again,’ and ‘Let’s Twist One Last Time, I Swear, for My Retirement Fund.’”
• Comedy writer Brad Dickson: “Nebraska football has landed a four-star cornerback out of Hawaii. I’m going to guess he doesn’t watch the Weather Channel.”
• RJ Currie of “The NY Post reports Alec Baldwin and Ben Stiller were the centre of attention at MSG during a recent NBA game. What do they expect people to do, watch the Knicks?”
• Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: “There’s rumblings out of L.A. that the Lakers are itching to swing a three-city trade to land Pelicans big man Anthony Davis. In return, the Lakers would send Lonzo Ball to New Orleans, and LaVar Ball to Flin Flon.”
• Perry again, under the ‘just wondering’ header: “Shouldn’t an errant hike over the punter’s head be known as a snapfu?”
• Another one from RJ Currie, after the NBA fined Pelicans star Anthony Davis $50,000 because his agent made his trade request public: “Tsk. There’s seven minutes salary he’ll never get back.”
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