It's Official: Isles Retain Capuano

What started out as a peaceful, spring day in Long Island on Monday broke into another fit of Islander fan rage as Arthur Staple of Newsday broke the news that Islander coach Jack Capuano would be returning behind the bench for the 2014/15 season.  (Photo credit: Official New York Islanders/flickr).

No sooner had the news of Nashville relieving its only head coach in its team’s history, Barry Trotz, of his coaching duties did Islander fans start envisioning the possibility of a coach of Trotz’s ilk behind the Islander bench. Dreams of sugar plums and no-necked coaches screaming at the team in blue and orange were quickly dashed by media reports this afternoon, letting the hockey world know that Capuano would be back, results be damned.

The 2014/15 season will mark Capuano’s fourth full season behind the bench for the Islanders (if you recall, he replaced Scott Gordon during the 2010/11 season in the midst of a November losing streak) and he actually has the second most coaching wins in Islander history, only 622 behind some guy named Al Arbour. Many Islander fans just recoiled in horror seeing Capuano and the legendary Islander coach in the same sentence…

This is not to say Capuano isn’t a decent, well-liked guy. From all accounts, he is just that. However, his job isn’t to be a great guy…it’s to be a great coach. And based on the team’s results, he is anything but a “great coach” at this point of his career. In a result-driven business, his 118-120-39 record and 3 out of 4 bottom five finishes are all that should matter.

There are people who will say that he is a good player’s coach…that the team plays hard for him as evidenced by their strong finish in mostly meaningless games down the stretch…that he is hindered by a roster thin on the blue-line and in net. All of these are true and can be feathers in his “cap.”

But, there are the negatives too, starting with the 13-19-9 home record, good for second worst in the league. Countless times his inability to effectively match lines despite having the last change has led to extended shifts where the Islanders are running out their fourth forward line or bottom-pairing defense combination against the opposition’s top line. This wouldn’t be an excusable offence if he were a rookie coach, let alone from someone with his coaching experience between his AHL and NHL stints.

Then there are his troubles with timeouts. It became a running internet joke how Capuano seemingly refused to use his timeout even when at times the Islanders clearly looked like a team that needed to slow the momentum of a game down (this usually occurred after they blew a two-goal lead which we’ll get to shortly). Things came to a head after a December game when asked about his refusal to use a timeout after watching Anaheim storm back to win a game that Capuano said that he usually relies on his centers to make the call. John Tavares: number 1 center, captain, all-star, coach. Sure, why not?

Let’s not forget about the 14 losses after having a lead at some point in the 3rd period, many of these of the multiple-goal variety. People can say that they are good enough to have a lead after 40 minutes, so the team and coaching staff cannot be that far off. However, it takes time to learn how to win and close out games, especially with a group that relies so heavily on youngsters. So when things start getting frantic late in the game, the coach should be the voice that calms the team down and gets them to re-focus.

If a team loses a game here or there in this fashion, you can chalk it up to an aberration or “just one of those games.” When it occurs in 17% of the season, it becomes your calling card…and not a good one to have at that.

And how can we forget the post-game interviews? Although all coaches will generally give the clichéd “coach-speak” and shouldn’t have it held against them, it was another item that became a running joke around the coach…”we battled hahd”…”we need to have good sticks”…”we have too many passengers.” Again, none of this indicates that Capuano is a bad coach, but it just goes to the overall tone that the man looks, sounds, and coaches like someone in over his head.

Add it all up, and you have a team that should have held a press conference telling the world they are searching for a new coach, not a statement saying he’ll be back. The saving grace behind this news is that if the rumored sale of the Islanders does occur, a change in organizational management from top to bottom is sure to be completed with Capuano swept away with buddy Garth Snow in favor of a more established regime.

However, that most likely would be the strategy for 2015/16 and Capuano would most certainly get the 2014/15 season behind the bench to take one more crack at making the playoffs.

The news also continues to fan the flames that the organization has little accountability for the failures of the team. More established coaches with track records have been fired…why is a coach with a sub .500 career record and only 2 playoff wins to his resume above it? Only Garth Snow knows that answer.

If Snow truly believes Capuano has done a good job here, then what does it say about the roster he put together? Does Snow not think the roster he put together was good enough for the playoffs? Snow insinuated that the team should have been more competitive reading his comments earlier in the season after the Thomas Vanek trade. Did it take an 82 game season for Snow to realize you can’t win with a poorly constructed roster?

This team has gone as far as it can under Capuano and it was time for a new direction.  If they didn't want to fire him outright, they could have re-assigned him to another position within the organization.   

However, the team made it less than 24 hours into the off-season before it made its first head-scratching move.  Unfortunately for Islander fans, it’s an all-too-familiar sight.

Follow me on Twitter @mikepac23 and make sure to check out @TCLIsles for Islander news and analysis