|Scott Gordon was fired the other day after his team lost its 10th straight. But was it the right move for the rebuilding Islanders?|
Patience and club owner Charles Wang don't mix. Peter Laviolette wasn't good enough after getting the club back to the playoffs pre-lockout, eventually landing on his feet guiding the Hurricanes to Lord Stanley in '05-06. Replacement Steve Stirling didn't make it through two seasons on the Island despite Wang's cost cutting ways. Ted Nolan lasted two years before being mysteriously fired by Garth Snow during the summer of '08. Gordon replaced him and was supposed to be the young coach who would lead the franchise into the future.
Despite back-to-back last place finishes his first two seasons, Gordon had the '09-10 Islanders in playoff contention until the final three weeks. Under him, the Islanders played hard- bringing a strong work ethic to the rink. In Tavares' rookie year, they improved from 26 wins and a league worst 61 points in '08-09 to 34 wins and 79 points, finishing nine points behind eighth Montreal, who upset Washington and Pittsburgh before falling to the seventh seeded Flyers. Nine out from the two unlikely Eastern Conference Finalists. A marked improvement from Year One when he had little to work with. Last year, he was supposed to get Rick DiPietro back but instead the franchise netminder got into eight games before another setback finished his season. Good thing Snow brought in vets Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron. Otherwise it would've been another uphill climb.
Aside from better goaltending particularly from Roloson, Tavares scored 24 goals and former King Matt Moulson reached 30, giving Gordon two players who scored 20-or-better. Remarkably, no Islander hit 20 in his first year with Kyle Okposo pacing the club with 18. The former '06 first rounder improved to 19 markers and a career best 33 helpers and 52 points. Before this season ever started, Gordon lost his power wing to right shoulder surgery which could keep him out until Christmas. He also was without Mark Streit to a torn left labrun (rotator cuff). Call it bad luck. How many coaches can overcome the loss of their top defenseman and top six forward? Take a look across the Hudson for primary example No.1 where expectations are much higher. Tavares also missed three games due to a concussion. We're not talking about a plethora of talent here.When you're relying on kids like JT91, Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen, Blake Comeau, Michael Grabner and even Rob Schremp, who just returned this month, it takes time.
Don't remind Wang, whose penny pinching ways haven't helped his coaches. Factor in the Alexei Yashin albatross which still counts against the Islander salary cap and it's mind numbing. Yashin and former defenseman Brendan Witt are being paid not to play at a combined $5.76 million. Subtract their buyout clauses and the Isles would be hovering just over the cap cutoff. Despite the way they're run, Snow did well in the offseason beefing up the blueline with James Wisniewski, Mark Eaton, Milan Jurcina and ex-Devil Mike Mottau. Wisniewski has been as advertised leading the club with 13 points (2-11-13) while playing hard nosed. Eaton paces them with 38 blocked shots with Mottau's 28 right behind. Before Jurcina went down to a bad hamstring, he had 22 hits and 18 blocks while also contributing two goals and a helper. Andrew MacDonald only played seven games before breaking his hand. So, Gordon lost half his D.
Before the 10-game skid (0-9-1) which cost him his job, he had the team out to a surprising 4-2-1 start in first. That was due to hot starts from Comeau, Bailey and Ranger castoff P.A. Parenteau with help from Moulson, Nielsen and captain Doug Weight. Everyone chipped in. If you compared their first month to November, it explains why they're struggling to score goals. Bailey hasn't registered a point in a month, possibly not the same after missing two games. The club is counting on the third-year forward to take pressure off Tavares, who's hit a slump having not lit the lamp the past eight games. He carries a club worst minus-12 along with Wisniewski into tonight's home match versus the Lightning.
With new interim coach Jack Capuano coming up from Bridgeport, maybe it'll light a fire. Sometimes, coaching changes work. Even if this one seems for the wrong reasons. Gordon was a good man and his team tried during the skid, falling short at Anaheim and San Jose. There was also the gut wrenching home loss to the enemy Flyers in which punk Daniel Carcillo got away with a late hit after a whistle. Current Ranger Ruslan Fedotenko got nabbed but a bully like Carcillo doesn't and eventually the Flyers score late breaking the Isles' backs. You figure it out. That's how it went for Gordon, who suddenly went from a rising coach good enough to help assist Team USA to an Olympic silver medal in Vancouver to moving upstairs next to Snow. It's true his teams never scored much which was part of the reason Snow made the change. Maybe Capuano changes that.
“When we’re in a situation we’re in right now—we’ve lost 10 games in a row—sometimes you have to go with your gut and make decisions that are tough,” explained the Islander GM of axing Gordon, who finishes with a 64-94-23 record. “We believe we need a change in direction and, with the majority of the regular season still ahead of us, our goal remains to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs."It's never easy when anyone loses their job. Especially a guy well respected. When players don't perform, this is what happens. Part of the ugly business of sports. Gordon never had the benefit of a healthy Islander roster and neither will his replacement at least for a while. Capuano joined the Isles as an assistant coach in '05-06 before taking over Bridgeport where he went 133-100-8-14.
“Hopefully, we can get some new energy, some new ideas, a different style of play,” Tavares said. “Scott tried a lot of different things, and we played better than other teams some nights. We didn’t get a lot of breaks. Things didn’t go our way, and Garth felt it was the right time to bring in some new ideas.”
Starting tonight, the Islanders play 11 of the next 16 games at home following a brutal stretch that saw them go 2-8-2 in 12 of the first 17 away from Nassau Coliseum. The game against NHL scoring leader Steven Stamkos will be just the sixth off the Meadowbrook. Ironically, they played well on home ice last year going 23-14-4. Road woes are what cost them any chance of the postseason, winning just 11 of 41 (11-23-7) the previous season. If they're to get back on track under Capuano, that must change.
"I don’t know if you need to shake it up too much,” he said. “Scott brought a lot of structure a couple of years ago, but there are some things we’ll tweak a little.”
“We’re just concerned about Wednesday,” Snow added. “He’s the coach of this team as we speak right now. He’s excited about the opportunity and looking forward to getting this team turned around.”
“It’s not the ideal situation,” Capuano said following his first practice Monday. “I have great respect for Scott. We’ve been friends for a long time and I’ve learned a great deal from him. But there was a change, and I’ll make the best of my opportunity.”