Jack Will Be Back: Isles Coaching Staff To Remain For Next Season

Newsday recently reported that Islanders GM Garth Snow is committed to bringing back his coaching staff. A drastically improved season has led Snow to believe that it is appropriate to keep head coach Jack Capuano, as well as assistant coaches Doug Weight, Bob Corkum and Greg Cronin, and goalie coach Mike Dunham, behind the Islanders bench next year.

Many fans disagree with this notion. The Islanders did have a tremendous season, improving from a team that consistently fell in the standings for a pick in the draft lottery to a team tied for fourth place in the East with 101 points.

But this team was in first place in their division, and at times the Conference, for the majority of the year. That is until the All-Star break, where the Islanders fell to 17-17-5 from January 16th to their final regular season game at Nassau Coliseum; a disappointing 4-3 shootout loss that prevented the Islanders from achieving home ice advantage in their first round playoff match-up with the Washington Capitals.

Despite being the best team in the NHL for duration of the regular season, the Islanders had one of the worst penalty killing units in the league. Many losses would come as a direct result of the Islanders’ special team’s unit failing to secure a lead when the opposing team would have the man-advantage.

Ironically, when the Isles became a .500 team during the second half of the year, their penalty killing units finally got much better. However, their power play unit, which had been relatively consistent over the first half of the season, began to struggle.

This struggle followed them into the playoffs. The Islanders had the worst statistics with the man-advantage; an embarrassing 0-14 through seven games. They are also the only team to make the first round of the playoffs and not score a power play goal in their first round series.

This certainly did not help the Islanders in any way, and neither did only managing 11 shots on goal in their elimination game. Of those 11 shots, only three came from their forwards. It’s absolutely mind-boggling that a team that averaged 2.99 goals a game during the regular season could only average one shot per period from their offense in the most meaningful game of the year.

All of these flaws appeared to possibly be enough for Snow to demand more from his coaching staff and make some major changes.

But there are several possible reasons as to why Snow feels he should give Capuano and his crew another chance.

It would have been difficult for any team to make it out of the first round without some of their top defenseman. Travis Hamonic did not play at all in this series against the Caps, and the Isles also ended up losing Lubomir Visnovsky and Calvin de Haan. Losing Vis after already not having Hamonic in the line-up might have hurt the most, as he provided some added playoff experience to a very inexperienced roster.

Rookies Anders Lee, Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome had little (if any) experience in the playoffs, and it showed. Lee was a healthy scratch in games 6 and 7, while Nelson sat out a few games as well. Defenseman Matt Donovan and Scott Mayfield made their playoff debuts on the blue line too. Both played pretty well when considering the situation that both were thrown into. But in the playoffs, experience will typically triumph the odds.

It’s also important to remember that aside from veterans like Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, Jaroslav Halak (who had an excellent showing for the Islanders in the playoffs, particularly in game 7), the Islanders’ core as a whole was inexperienced.

Leaders such as John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen, Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin had only played in the playoffs one other time – two years ago when they fought the Pittsburgh Penguins in a six-game battle in 2013.

At the very least, this year’s playoffs series against the Capitals should provide the entire team with added experience that will hopefully provide as a major stepping stone if this team is to reach the playoffs again next year.

Yet the expectations for next season are raised now, and Capuano and his staff are definitely aware of that.

But if the coaching staff isn’t going to change, then the onus falls on Snow. Whichever way you slice it, the Islanders did not end the 2015 season in a justifiable way. Yes, when compared to previous years, this season was far and away a significant improvement. But a new standard has been set, and a first round exit is no longer acceptable.

Snow will likely be looking to add a top-line winger (which was terribly missed all year), a back-up goaltender, and perhaps some added muscle on the blue line, but that is a blog post for another day.

Like the rest of his squad, Capuano’s experience in the playoffs is limited as well. This year should also serve as a stepping stone for the coach; to weed out what did or did not work and what adjustments he should or should not have made during the year and post-season.

Unlike his predecessor, (and I’m not talking about Neil Smith), Snow has not been about firing a coach after every failed season, and that’s a good thing. Having a new coach every other year prevents an organization from creating stability. Each coach provides his own methods, techniques, and playing system that each player has to learn.

If that changes from year to year, then the players have to adjust over and over again, providing major hurdles on the road to consistency.

However, it can be argued that bringing in an experienced coach who knows what it takes to win in the playoffs would speed up this “learning process” immediately.

But Capuano has now gotten this team to the playoffs for the second time in three years; the first time after a full 82-game season.

This is not a blog post suggesting that Capuano deserves to stay. Nor is it one suggesting that Snow made the wrong decision.

This is a post that is merely stating that there are two sides to this tale.

Hopefully Snow has chosen the correct path that will lead to a happier ending in the next chapter of the Islanders’ story.

-Rob McGowan


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