Capuano Should Return As Isles Head Coach

New York Islanders interim head coach Jack Capuano took over the head duties behind the bench after former coach Scott Gordon was fired after the team had gone 4-10-3 at the start of the season and continued to lose 20 out of 21 games up until December. Since Capuano has taken over, the Isles have gone 23-22-8, including a 22-14-6 stretch since December 15th. As a result, the Islanders are tied with the Northeast division leading Bruins for the most points in the Eastern Conference since that date.

I was a bit skeptical when Scott Gordon was fired. The team lacked goal scoring and had Michael Grabner (who was not yet a scoring machine) and Mike Mottau replace the injured Kyle Okposo and Mark Streit. Although both are effective athletes, they were not the same type of players that were lost. Plus, the organization is notorious for firing coaches, thus removing any systems that are put in place and creating a carousel of coaching methods that are taught, forgotten and taught again year after year, preventing consistency.

The difference with Capuano is that he was teaching the same system that Scott Gordon had started and had been doing it for years through the team's AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. And to make his transition to the NHL a little easier, almost everyone on the current roster had been coached by him before, whether with the Isles when he was an assistant coach for Ted Nolan or the head coach of the Sound Tigers. It almost feels like everyone who has worn a Sound Tigers jersey has played with the Islanders this season since the team has over 500 man games lost to injury. Yes, I said 500. The highest in the league.

So if the roster pretty much hasn't changed, (besides getting worse as more players were shut down for the season including Mark Eaton, Mottau, Trent Hunter and Doug Weight), then what is Capuano doing differently? Well he adjusted the system that Gordon had implemented, a system that had been called out in the past, most notably by former defenseman Brendan Witt. Gordon's overspeed forechecking system uses an aggressive attack by the forwards and involves the defense with the offense as well, which at times put certain defenders out of position. Capuano's changes have allowed the Islanders to adjust and play a more controlled style. And best of all, the interim coach has found a way to connect to these players and they have responded. Not only are these guys playing for him, but they're playing for each other. Under Capuano, the entire team has developed a "you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us" mentality. Whether it be with fists or goals, the Islanders have found a way to get even and compete with the best of the league.

The New York Islanders have traditionally rewarded their players, current and retired, with jobs within the organization. Doug Weight has a job lined up for him once his current contract expires. The fact that he was used as an assistant coach in practice this year to help out the power play units was not an extension of courtesy. Former Islander Ken Morrow is the Director of Pro Scouting and Eric Cairns and Steve Webb are still involved with the Islanders to this day. Mike Dunham, who only wore an Islanders jersey for a short period, is currently the Islanders goaltending coach. And let's not forget the obvious: former back-up goaltender Garth Snow is the current GM of the team. It would almost be uncharacteristic of the Islanders to not bring back Capuano considering he has been with the team in some way, shape or form for years.

So when you take all of that into consideration, the injuries, the losing streak and the lack of star power, and see that the Islanders are an above .500 hockey club since Capuano's promotion and only nine points out of a playoff spot, you have to wonder if he will be sticking around beyond next season. He might not get them into the playoffs this year, but he has taken a team that had one of the worst losing streaks in franchise history and completely turned the season around.

Forget uncharacteristic; if Capuano is not brought back for at least one season as head coach of the New York Islanders, it is just plain unfair.

-Rob McGowan

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George Prax's picture

Can't deny some of the awesome things Capuano has done in such a short time, but that can be a dangerous game sometimes for teams. It can be hit (Dan Bylsma) or miss (Cory Clouston). But with the Isles growing as a team, I can definitely see the benefit of having a coach that grows along with them. Definitely deserves another shot.