LAW & ISLES
CASE NUMBER 001-1314
NEW YORK ISLANDERS FANS v. JACK CAPUANO
THE FACTS: Jack Capuano is the 2nd most winning coach in Islanders history behind Al Arbour. Capuano took over for the fired Scott Gordon in November of 2010 while the Islanders were in the midst of a 10-game losing streak. A product of the University of Maine (the alma mater of Garth Snow), Capuano was a 1984 draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs and during the course of his professional career spent time in the Isles system. Capuano also led the Islanders to their first playoff berth since 2007 during last year’s lockout shortened season. After a decent start to this season, the Islanders had a dreadful November, going 2-10-1 in their last 13 games, capped by a deflating and depressing loss to the Washington Capitals on home ice 3-2 in OT, despite having a 2-1 lead with a minute and a half to play in the 3rd and a powerplay. Islanders fans on social media and other blogs have called for Capuano’s firing for many reasons including the need for change and incompetence (adjudged mostly on his postgame press conferences).
PLAINTIFF’S CASE: The Islanders virtually declared the rebuild over after trading for Thomas Vanek earlier in November. However, since that trade, and due to no fault of Vanek, the Islanders have gone into a major tailspin reminiscent of the Scott Gordon years. Several things are different from the Islanders in 2010 under Gordon and the 2013 Isles under Capuano. First, the Isles were still rebuilding in 2010. After drafting Tavares in 2009 and Nino in 2010 nobody thought the Islanders would be anything other than another lottery team in 2010-2011. Second, Gordon and Capuano were praised by Garth for their abilities to develop young players, but now in 2013, in what should be John Tavares’ prime, the Isles don’t need a developer behind the bench, they need a coach who will get the most production out of the lineup. Fans have also grown frustrated with the coach’s bizarre postgame comments about “battle level” and lucky bounces, when it’s clear the Isles defense isn’t up to snuff and several players are stargazing and lost out on the ice (I’m talking to you Josh Bailey). The most damning case against Capuano is all the blown leads and awful play in the 3rd period. It seems that the Islanders get too relaxed and stop skating and forechecking when they have a lead in the 3rd period. Whether or not this is by the coach’s design, all the blown leads have led to a forced identity on this club and the only way to change that is by changing the culture in the locker room. That culture starts with the coach.
DEFENDANTS CASE: To be fair to “Cappy”, the Isles have played most of the season without top defenseman and PP quarterback Lubomir Visnovsky and there is no doubt the loss of Evgeni Nabokov hurts the locker room chemistry. He is still the second most winning coach in franchise history and seemingly has the public support of all of his players, as we have yet to hear a player break rank. Also, who is going to coach the team if Capuano goes? Doug Weight can’t be considered a serious candidate to take over a team that is supposed to be a playoff contender, and the names out there include Snow’s former coach Peter Laviolette, who was unceremoniously fired by the Isles in 2003 after 2 straight playoff appearances due to a locker room revolt, a locker room that Snow was leader in, so that idea can pretty much be flushed down the toilet.
THE VERDICT: Even though you are never supposed to leave a job until you have another one lined up, the Isles should fire Capuano despite no real coaching threats being available to them. Whether or not you agree with Capuano’s X’s and O’s, and whether you like or dislike his press conferences, the fact of the matter is the team’s identity is that of a pushover late in games who plays weak defense and stop forechecking. Garth Snow may not be doing his coach any favors by failing to bring in real defensive help, but that doesn’t help the culture of losing in the locker room right now and a change to a proven coach may be the spark that gets this season back on track. It’s less drastic and less costly than a blockbuster trade that could have Moulson ripple effects, but could be effective enough to salvage this season.