Boring Hockey?  For The Islanders, It’s Been Winning Hockey

Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire

If you look closely at the Stanley Cup, there’s not one team that has hosted Lord Stanley that has had any kind of moniker engraved next to their name.  All you see is the team’s name, the year that they won, and the names of the General Manager, Owner(s), coaches, scouts, players and trainers.

For example, if you look at the four Islanders Stanley Cup championship teams from 1979 to 1983, it doesn’t say “what a fun team to watch.”  If you look at any of the championships won by the Montreal Canadiens or Edmonton Oilers, you don’t see anything like “the winningest team in NHL history” or “a great team led by ‘The Great One’”.

And if you look at the New Jersey Devils’ championship teams in 1995, 2000, and 2003, it doesn’t say “oh they played boring hockey” or “they only won because they played the neutral zone trap”.

I bring up the Devils because the architect of those teams was Lou Lamoriello, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, who is currently the President and General Manager of the Islanders.

The East Division leading New York Islanders.

But despite their current six-game winning streak, points in nine straight games and seventeen of their last nineteen, and a record of 16-6-4 for 36 points, the Islanders are being labeled as a team that plays “boring hockey” and a team that is “less than exciting”.

Boring? Not Exciting? What The Islanders Do Is Win: 

The reality is that the Islanders are playing winning hockey.

“It’s all about the team and what you’re doing to help the team win and if the team is winning,” said Islanders defenseman Andy Greene.  “Who cares how it’s done? If it’s ugly or anywhere in-between it doesn’t matter.  We’re in this business to win.  Our system fits us for our team. It may not fit for other teams but that’s what you do as a coach.  You look at the roster and you look at the team and you look at the way we want to play and what gives your team the best chance very night.”

UNIONDALE, NY – MARCH 06: New York Islanders Defenseman Andy Greene (4) skates with the puck during the third period of the National Hockey League game between the Buffalo Sabres and the New York Islanders on March 6, 2021, at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, NY. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)

Lamoriello was hired as Islanders President late in the 2017-18 season but would eventually assume the General Manager duties when he re-assigned Garth Snow and he also made a coaching change removing Doug Weight and hiring Barry Trotz who had just won a Stanley Cup with the Capitals.  Even with John Tavares bolting to sign a free agent deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Lamoriello assembled a roster that has been able to excel within Trotz’s system.

The Islanders Stick To Their System And That Includes Scoring Goals: 

It’s a defensive-first system with strong goaltending that also creates offensive chances by frustrating teams and utilizing the skills of each and every player on the team.

“That’s kind of our identity,” said Islanders forward Jordan Eberle.  “But we ultimately have to put the puck in the net and I think when you talk about a full team and a full lineup, that just goes to show we have that many players who are contributing each night.  When we’re at our best, we’re rolling four lines and trying to roll over teams.”

UNIONDALE, NY – MARCH 09: New York Islanders Right Wing Jordan Eberle (7) scores a goal on Boston Bruins Goalie Jaroslav Halak (41) during the shootout period of the National Hockey League game between the Boston Bruins and the New York Islanders on March 9, 2021, at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, NY. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)

Eberle has scored nine goals this season and is one of five players on the Islanders with at least nine tallies.  Captain Anders Lee leads the team with twelve goals and he’s followed by Brock Nelson who scored his tenth goal on Tuesday night.  From there, Eberle, Mathew Barzal, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau all have nine.

Boring?

The Islanders have players that are contributing on both ends of the ice including defenseman Nick Leddy who leads the team with 15 assists to go along with one goal.

Look at the numbers up and down the roster…

Lee is second on the team with 18 points Pageau has 17.

After a slow start, Nelson is up to 15 points.

Defenseman Ryan Pulock has not scored a goal yet, but he has 10 assists and is a plus 7.

Rookie Oliver Wahlstrom has emerged as an offensive force with four goals and five assists for nine points.

Barzal has fourteen assists and leads the team in scoring with 23 points and has a plus/minus rating of plus 11.

And speaking of Barzal, he is one of the most electrifying players in the NHL and his highlight reel goal in Saturday’s win over Buffalo created plenty of buzz on social media and was the number one play that day on ESPN Sports Center’s “Top Ten”.

“You can say we’re not exciting and we’re not this and that but I mean you’ve seen some of the goals,” said Eberle.  “We have some skill in this locker room and it’s just a matter of the opportunity of playing the right way and creating chances out of it and then being able to use your skill.”

For The Islanders, All That Matters Is Winning:

Very simply, the Islanders are playing a system that works.  Maybe it wouldn’t work for other teams, but it works for the Islanders.

Since Trotz took over as Head Coach, the Islanders have established a winning culture.  They’re still on a mission to win the Stanley Cup, but in their first three seasons under Trotz, the Islanders are trending in that direction.

In 2018-19, the Islanders made the playoffs and swept the Penguins in the opening round.

Last season, the Islanders stormed through the bubble and made it the Eastern Conference Final falling six wins shy of hoisting Lord Stanley.

And this season, the Islanders have rebounded from an early-season five-game losing streak to jump to the top of the East Division and to fifth place in the overall league standings.

Why are Islanders winning?  They’re just following the mission statement.

“You’ve got to play for each other,” said Trotz, the 2018-19 Jack Adams Award winner as NHL Coach of the Year.  “You have to have balance in your game as much as you can.  You have to have respect for your teammates.  I’m in a partnership with the players.  We’re in a partnership to win hockey games.  That is the bottom line.   The other partnership is to make you the best version of yourself…whatever that version is.”

You don’t get to coach 1,700 games in the National Hockey League without knowing what you’re doing and Trotz brought with him to Long Island a resume that warrants respect and attention.

When Barry Trotz Speaks, The Islanders Listen…And Win: 

The results on the ice over the last three seasons speak for themselves.  The players believe in Barry and his coaching staff and they have, for the most part, followed the blueprint for building a winning team.

“We’ve continued to have success with him making the playoffs the first year and making the conference final the second year and we hope to continue moving forward,” said Eberle.  “We’re trying to put this organization on the map and he’s obviously a huge reason for that.”

Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz (Photo by Peter Schwartz/New York Sports Day)

The reality is that while Barry Trotz has established a system that works, that Lou Lamoriello has compiled a roster to fit that system, and the players understand their roles and are executing the plan to win hockey games, the Islanders just can’t seem to shake a label that some hockey experts have given them.

“The Islanders are boring”

“The Islanders are not exciting”

That’s utter nonsense.

Regardless of how you characterize the Islanders, it won’t be engraved on the Stanley Cup should the Isles get to hoist Lord Stanley this season.

But if you want to label the Islanders with something right now, it should be something like…

“The Islanders play winning hockey”

That is the objective right?

About the Author

Peter Schwartz

Peter covers the Islanders for New York Sports Day while also writing about general sports in the New York/New Jersey area. In addition to his column, Peter also hosts his “Schwartz On Sports” podcast as he interviews players, coaches, and other sports personalities. He is also currently a sports anchor for WFAN Radio, CBS Sports Radio and WCBS 880 radio while also serving as the public address announcer for the New York Cosmos soccer club. Peter spent 8 years as the radio play by play voice for the New York Dragons of the Arena Football League. He was also the radio play by play announcer for the XFL’s NY/NJ Hitmen in 2001 and the radio play by play announcer for the New York Saints of the Major Indoor Lacrosse League from 1993 to 1996.

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