The Florida Panthers and New York Islanders each hired new coaches during last season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.
But that’s where the similarities in offseason approaches end for the teams, who are slated to begin the 2022-23 season on Thursday night when the Islanders host the Panthers in Elmont, N.Y.
The Panthers won the Presidents Trophy last season, when they went 58-18-6 (122 points), but they fell to the eventual Eastern Conference champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the playoffs.
The Islanders’ streak of three straight playoff berths and two consecutive trips to the semifinals ended when they finished 37-35-10 (84 points) and in ninth place in the East, 16 points behind the second wild card.
Enter new bench bosses Paul Maurice for the Panthers and Lane Lambert for the Islanders.
Despite emerging as a Stanley Cup favorite under interim head coach Andrew Brunette — who went 51-18-6 after replacing Joel Quenneville last Oct. 28 — the Panthers embarked upon one of the biggest overhauls in the NHL this summer.
After replacing Brunette with former Winnipeg Jets head coach Maurice, the Panthers traded left winger Jonathan Huberdeau, who led the NHL with 85 assists last season, and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar to the Calgary Flames for left winger Matthew Tkachuk.
Florida hopes the moves and Maurice’s imprint will help a franchise that’s won just one playoff series in the last quarter-century take the next step as a perennial championship contender.
“Build a game here that we can play past April,” said Maurice, who led the Carolina Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup Finals in the spring of 2002. “We want to start the process of building a game that we can carry straight through from regular season to playoffs.”
Under Maurice’s leadership, the Jets allowed the fifth-fewest goals in the NHL on their way to the semifinals in the spring of 2018.
Constructing a playoff-caliber game wasn’t a problem for the Islanders under Barry Trotz. He who became the first Islanders’ head coach to direct the club to the postseason three straight times since Hall of Famer Al Arbour, who was behind the bench for the dynastic four-peat from 1980-83.
Counting the qualifying round in the 2020 bubble, New York won 26 playoff games under Trotz, as many as the franchise won in the 30 years prior to Trotz’s arrival in 2018.
But the Islanders never got on track in what ended up being Trotz’s final season at the helm. A COVID-19 outbreak in early November near the end of a franchise-record 13-game season-opening road trip — necessitated as the final touches were applied to their new arena — led to a brief pause of the season. It also spurred an 11-game losing streak from which New York didn’t recover.
Trotz was fired 10 days after the regular season ended and replaced with longtime assistant Lambert — the lone major move of the offseason by general manager Lou Lamoriello. He’s hoping a new voice and a little better fortune will jumpstart a struggling offense while maintaining the Islanders’ defense-first identity. New York ranked 24th in goals scored but allowed the 10th-fewest goals in 2021-22.
“I think there’s a lot to look forward to,” Islanders captain Anders Lee said. “We have the guys and we have the ability, so now we have to go out and get this thing going and start to prove that.”
–Field Level Media