The Islanders’ 2015-16 season has reached critical mass. They are 1-4-2 in their last seven games and have fallen out of the top three in the Metropolitan Division, possibly preventing a Rangers-Islanders first-round matchup, the first since 1994. They may not even make the playoffs. Following Monday’s loss, they are only three points ahead of the surging Philadelphia Flyers. Although there are just 11 games remaining in the regular season, it is time that general manager Garth Snow relieves Jack Capuano of his head-coaching duties.
Why the Change?
It seems that the team, most notably the top nine forwards, have tuned out Capuano, who is the fourth-longest tenured head coach in the NHL. He is the only NHL head coach in history to have coached at least 400 games with the same team who has not won a playoff round. There are new line combinations every game that sometimes do not even last a period. When Snow acquired forward Shane Prince at the trade deadline he was immediately thrown on the top line with John Tavares, who spent a total of one practice together.
Ten minutes into his first game against the Vancouver Canucks, Prince was taken off the top line and moved down. The team has failed to put together a solid 60-minute game in quite some time. Sure they navigated their toughest stretch of the season, playing 12 of 14 games on the road, with a 7-4-3 record, but they often played down to their opponents, who out scored them 32-31. Their offense has gone missing of late, scoring just eight goals in their last six games. The team relied on the goaltending duo of Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak. Greiss has continued his strong play with Halak out for the regular season, but has received no support from his teammates. Capuano himself had few answers following Saturday’s loss to the Stars and often sounds like former New York Jets head coach Rich Kotite.
“It’s tough to fault these guys. It’s frustrating because I thought the guys played hard tonight. They deserved better.”
Sparking the Captain
A head coaching change would likely provide a spark in John Tavares. The captain’s production has dropped significantly from his near Art Ross Trophy a season ago. His 56 points are 30 points below his 86 from last season and ten off his 66 from his injury-shortened 2013-14 season. Tavares has had to deal with rotated line-mates. It seems like the frustration has finally caught up to him. The Islanders can look to the Pittsburgh Penguins, who fired Mike Johnston after starting the season 15-10-3. Johnston coached Pittsburgh for just 110 games. Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford knew a change was needed.
“I felt it was time for a coaching change because our team has under-achieved. Our expectations are much higher with this group of players.”
Mike Sullivan took over for Johnston and the Penguins are 25-14-5. The change in coach has affected captain Sidney Crosby the most. Crosby had 19 points in 28 games before the firing on December 12th. Crosby has exploded for 25 goals and 57 points in 43 games since Sullivan took over and has catapulted himself into the Hart Trophy conservation. Rutherford had the pulse of his team and decided a change was needed. Something I think Snow has failed to have. He has stockpiled young players for a couple of years now. Capuano is afraid to play them. It’s not a great combination. 2013 first-round pick Ryan Pulock finally made his NHL debut last month but has recently been scratched for Brian Strait, who has struggled each time in the lineup.
Is it Too Late?
The Islanders can also look to their division rival New Jersey Devils. Team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello fired head coach Robbie Ftorek with eight games left in the 1999-00 season. The Devils were in first place, but lost 12 of their last 17 games. After exiting the playoffs earlier than expected, Lamoriello felt Ftorek could not take the team to the next level. Assistant coach Larry Robinson took over and the team won their second Stanley Cup in team history. The Islanders have failed to advance to the second round since 1993. Are the Islanders winning the Cup this season? Probably not. Capuano has taken his team to the playoffs twice, losing in six and seven games respectively. Even though the team failed to show up in Game seven against the Washington Capitals last season, Capuano made a couple of head-scratching decisions. First he scratched second-leading goal scorer Anders Lee. With just over three minutes left in the game and the Isles down one, they were awarded the game’s only power play. Capuano failed to pull Halak at any point during the power play. Only pulling him once the power play was over. The Isles could only muster 11 shots in the game.
To be fair, it is not all Capuano’s fault. Snow has failed to do much in free agency. He relied on the maturation of his young forwards Anders Lee, Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome. The trio have combined for just 43 goals. His lone move last offseason was a successful one, signing Greiss. In the past two off-seasons, Snow has failed to net a top-line winger to play alongside Tavares. Something that hasn’t gone unnoticed with the captain. Snow also handled this trade deadline as if his job was safe. If it were in jeopardy, he wouldn’t be gun shy about trading a first-round pick.
Capuano is his third coach, the second he has hired and could be his last. Alternate governors Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin assume majority control from Charles Wang in the offseason. Don’t know what to expect from them. The Islanders could once again face an age of uncertainty.
Noel Fogelman is a 5-time Emmy Winner and started his career working on the Buffalo Sabres Pre and postgame shows for the Empire Sports Network. He then went to Bristol, CT to work at ESPN on NHL2Night and its coverage of the Stanley Cup. Follow me on Twiter @thefirstnoel19