TAMPA — Here the Islanders are in their second consecutive semifinal, which is a feat the organization hadn’t accomplished since 1979-84, when the team qualified for six straight seasons.
Since the arrival of general manager Lou Lamoriello and coach Barry Trotz in 2018, the Islanders have won five playoff series (not including the play-in round they won over the Panthers last season). And the franchise had combined for five playoff series wins over the previous 34 years prior to Lamoriello and Trotz implementing their idea of a winning culture.
It’s a culture of professionalism, playing for one another and getting to the finish line as one collective unit, which each and every Isles player has seemingly bought into. The Islanders’ emergence as one of the NHL’s most consistent playoff contenders couldn’t be timelier.
“I think winning matters,” Cal Clutterbuck said ahead of Game 2 against the Lightning at Amalie Arena on Tuesday night. “I think winning, it’s what’s important to us. Everyone’s opinion is different. Everyone is entitled to it. But, no we don’t think about it.”
The Islanders have donned the underdog title for all three playoff appearances under Trotz, even when they were the higher seed over the Penguins in the 2018-19 first-round series. But now that the Isles have returned to the Stanley Cup semifinals, proving that their run in the bubble playoffs last season wasn’t a fluke, the team has forced its way onto everybody’s radar.
It’s gotten to the point where the Islanders can no longer be underestimated.
Lamoriello, whose first NHL management gig was in 1987 with the Devils, has been establishing winning cultures throughout his entire career. The reigning GM of the year has reached the semifinals/conference finals in every decade since 1980.
“Organizationally, I think it was important for us to get back to some foundational stuff,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “Being a team that is consistently close to the playoffs or in the playoffs or moving forward to try and win a Stanley Cup. We’re trying to be a constant playoff team and a constant threat. Because once you get into the playoffs, you have a chance every year. If you have success as an organization, that takes care of everything else.”
With the Islanders’ new UBS Arena set to open next season, as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman put it, the confluence of events couldn’t be more fortuitous. Between the Isles’ consistent playoff success and their new $1 billion-plus arena, the franchise is certainly an appealing one.
Co-owner Jon Ledecky acknowledged on a recent tour of the new building’s construction site that the hope is future free agents will view the Islanders as an enticing landing spot.
The Islanders now have a winning culture, a winning management tandem, and a new building they can win in.
“When you say five-year plan, that’s what you put on a piece of paper, but every day it changes,” Lamoriello said before the start of this series. “So right now, we’ve been here for three years, but there’s still that type of plan. But I think that our coaching staff, what they’ve done, what Barry has done with our group is just incredible and right now I think we’re as good a team if not better than we were at any given time. In fact, we’ve gotten better and better through this whole playoffs embracing everything and anything that’s asked.
“I’ve always said this that individual players can help you win games, but to win a championship it has to be one complete team.”