When Doug Weight was promoted to head coach in the offseason, the hope was the New York Islanders could pick up right where they left off. Weight took over for former head coach Jack Capuano about halfway through last season, and guided the Islanders to a 24-12-4 record. After a strong finish, Weight was rewarded with an extension.
This season, the Islanders started off hot and lit up the scoresheets. Weight had the Islanders playing faster and their offense benefited from his coaching philosophy. Josh Bailey had 56 points in 82 games last year, and already has 50 points in just 42 games this year. The Islanders have scored 141 goals as a team, good for second in the NHL. The only problem is, they can’t keep the puck out of their own net.
That wasn’t an issue when the Islanders were vying for second and third in the Metropolitan Division. They are last in the league in goals allowed, but the Islanders were winning plenty of games by outscoring their opponents. However, the scoring has dried up and the team has entered a full-on tailspin. They are 3-6-1 in their last 10, and a recent win over the Devils snapped a five-game losing streak. As the team continues to slide, who is to blame for this mess?
Was Weight a Mistake?
Weight was the obvious hire because of how the Islanders finished last season. He seemed to have a good relationship with the players and was a popular choice among fans. Yet, the Islanders had a chance to take a different approach and instead went the conservative route.
Former Los Angeles Kings head coach Darryl Sutter was, and still is, on the market. Sutter won two Stanley Cups and a total of 225 games with the Kings. He would consider a return to coaching if he found the right fit, and any team with a player like John Tavares has to be appealing.
Ken Hitchcock began his NHL coaching career in 1996, and won a Stanley Cup as coach of the Dallas Stars. He was available before Weight signed an extension, but instead signed with the Stars in his second stint with the team.
Even former Florida Panthers coach Gerard Gallant was available, as he now heads the Western Conference’s best team, the Vegas Golden Knights.
Weight did well in his short stint as head coach, but was responsible for poor special teams when he was an assistant to Capuano. This season, the Islanders power play is converting 20.6% of the time which is good for eighth in the league. Again, there isn’t a problem scoring. The penalty kill only has a 73.1% success rate which is only better than the Edmonton Oilers. Weight has failed to get the Islanders to play a two-way game. But, is the team’s poor execution solely on the coach?
Garth Snow’s Flawed Roster
Garth Snow is one of the league’s longest-tenured general managers. He was hired by the Islanders on July 18, 2006. In his 12 years with the organization, the Isles have made the playoffs just four times. Snow was handed a mess when he accepted the job, but it’s unacceptable that his shining accomplishment is getting to the second round of the playoffs in the 2015-2016 season.
This season looks no different. With a handful of promising prospects and a tremendous top six, the Islanders have failed to meet expectations once again. The argument could be made that they have the best top six in hockey.
The first line of John Tavares, Anders Lee, and Josh Bailey followed by a line of Andrew Ladd, Mathew Barzal, and Jordan Eberle has been utterly dominant. The problem is the scoring beyond those two lines. The Islanders’ depth on offense is paper thin, and many forwards are underperforming.
Brock Nelson is a prime example of this. At 26 years old, Nelson is having one of his worst seasons to date. Through 42 games, he has just nine goals and four assists for 13 points. This means Nelson will have to go on a tear the rest of the way if he wants to at least reach the 45 points he posted last season.
As for the rest, Joshua Ho-Sang has been sent back to the AHL, Anthony Beauvillier was just recalled. Jason Chimera has two goals, and Shane Prince has been ineffective since returning from injury. The Islanders’ defense is extremely mediocre outside of Nick Leddy, and it doesn’t help that Johnny Boychuk and Calvin de Haan are hurt.
The Islanders have the key pieces a team would need to contend, but don’t have a complete roster to round them out. Garth Snow has been patient for far too long, and has to act. The problem is, Snow locked up many players long-term, which will hinder their ability to re-sign players like Tavares and Bailey, who are due for contract extensions.
Here is a list of players the New York Islanders have locked up over the next 3+ seasons:
— Adam Herman (@AdamZHerman) January 4, 2018
Out of that list, the only player that likely deserves to be locked up is Nick Leddy. The rest are either too old, or are overpaid. Snow has locked up suspect talent, and it may cost him in building a winner.
A Much Needed Break
The Islanders have hit their bye week and will play next against the New York Rangers on Jan. 13. The break couldn’t have come at a better time to get the team healthy and potentially press the reset button on a squad that’s still right in the thick of things.
However, problems will continue to arise if the Islanders struggle. This team is too talented to miss the playoffs, but their flaws are apparent. It’s up to the coaching staff and management to right the ship. If not, both should be feeling the hot seat.
John Cavanagh is a Journalism major in his third year at St. John’s University in Queens. He’s an aspiring sports journalist, and writes for his school paper called “The Torch”. He also covers the New York Rangers for Blue Line Station, and now the New York Islanders for The Hockey Writers.