There’s no question that Barry Defiance has durability with every team he coaches. His high-intensity defensive style will never be something players want to do year after year, especially now that more and more teams are rushing into goals left and right. He was in Nashville forever, but definitely stayed longer than welcome. He even won a trophy in DC and was allowed to walk out the second the parade was over. And now he’s out as coach of the New York Islanders.
Even with his last two departures, his contractual requirements stood in his way. But if you specialize in maximizing existing talent and even surpassing what that talent should do, you have more than right to believe that you should be greatly rewarded.
And the funny thing about this season is that it’s actually not that bad, depending on how you look at it. The Islanders had one rule win less than the Capitals. They had the same number of regular wins as Vegas and three more than Dallas. And they got those even though their first 13 games were underway because their arena wasn’t ready. On top of that, the winter roster was completely torn apart by COVID. Two players played 80 games or more and one of them was Zach Parise, so that doesn’t count.
Missing the playoffs by 16 points looks bad, and in many ways it is, but some of that comes from just one overtime win, two more shootout wins and seven more games lost after 60 minutes. They didn’t get enough games into overtime to get an extra point here and there, but they won enough games in 60 minutes to be in contention for a playoff spot. Results in the OT or in the shootout have nothing to do with structure or coaching. It’s just luck. Split those OT scores, bring a handful more games to OT and the islands would have been around 94 points. Which is usually enough to contend for a playoff spot.
No, the Islanders didn’t shoot much, 22nd in the league in goals per game. That’s kind of defiance’s thing. Their metrics weren’t great either, bottom 10 on tries and expected goals per 60 minutes. But look at this list. In a league where the emphasis is always more on scoring than preventing, how is it ever going to score enough goals? Nobody on this team cracked more than 60 points. Some of this is an endorsement of Mathew Barzal in his career arc. But Barzal is the only top player on this team.
No, the fault lies in the front office, where Emperor Palpatine cosplayer Lou Lamoriello lives. The islanders have either refused to bring in more talent or just let whatever talent they have on hand go. Devon Toews, who has produced 57 points from the blue line for the Avs this year, was jettisoned on cap concerns. Jordan Eberle was parachuted to Seattle. And Lou failed to replace both.
Look who’s getting long-term contracts from Lamoriello, Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, and Ross Johnston. These are all fourth-liners, and while some like Cizikas might have some use, you should always be able to find these types of players in the back of your closet. And they certainly aren’t worth prioritizing above the top 6 players.
The “scorers” that Lou wanted to keep fall into the “former devils” category. You don’t want former New Jersey Devils if offense, skill, and flair is your problem. They don’t shop at Walmart for Trader Joe stuff. Kyle Palmieri and Jean-Gabriel Pageau are doing well. They’re basically regular center six wingers. But again, they’re not the kind of players you worry about when Barzal doesn’t have anyone to match. Parise had smelled funny and had odd hunks for years, which is why the Minnesota Wild were only too happy to pay his buyout to get him out of town.
Lou also didn’t bring anything out of the draft. He had four shots with him and the only two players to show up for the Isles are Oliver Wahlstrom and Noah Dobson and only Dobson is something that would be considered something other than something you’d find down an alleyway with a handmade sign dignity that reads, “All yours.”
Sure, perhaps one could argue that defiance was an impediment for Anthony Beauvillier to make a leap. Brock Nelson and Anders Lee are who they are at this point, who are solid second-line players. But defiance was either not given a puck mover on the blue line or was ruled out. Toews was that guy, and he’s spending time in Denver right now, while Lou used the money that should have gone to Toews to secure his plugs and ogres. The Isles can’t get the puck on the ice quickly if Defiance ever wanted to. Lamoriello’s best skill is bitching about having to pay each player more than a few bowls of gruel.
Lamoriello still believes that if you accumulate enough grunts and just train them properly and get them to play a very focused, boring style, this is a league they can win in. And some playoff results may have skewed his perspective as the Isles progressed to back-to-back conference finals. But the league is moving away from that. Look at the top of the leaderboard and you’ll see teams loaded with guns. The Isles are consistently sharp as a knife in the second half of this matchup.
Whether Defiance can survive in this league is more controversial than most think. What Defiance does is an excellent goalkeeping performance thanks to his goalkeeping coach, MItch Korn. That alone can increase a team’s wealth if it’s a limited group. There are these teams out there. But again, this is a league that is becoming more and more focused on scoring. This wave can break and roll back, but when it doesn’t, there’s a certain upper limit to what defiance can do with its glorified trap system. And there’s a brief window of opportunity before players want something more entertaining.
But, Definitely did all he could on the island. And the islanders are still piloted by a man trying to win the 2007 Stanley Cup.