There has not been this much pressure at the start of the season on the New York Islanders in decades. That pressure will fall squarely on head coach Jack Capuano, who is the longest tenured head coach in the Metropolitan Division, and, believe it or not, fourth longest in the league.
The Off-Season of the Coach
Three days after the team did not show up for Game 7 vs the Capitals, General Manager Garth Snow announced that Capuano and his entire staff would return for his sixth season behind the bench. The move was curious as there were plenty of quality head coaches, including two Stanley Cup winning coaches (Dan Bylsma and Mike Babcock) and one Stanley Cup finalist (Pete DeBoer) available. In fact, seven teams will feature new head coaches when the regular season begins next month.
The Pros of Keeping Cappy
The Islanders had their best regular season wins and points wise since the “Drive for Five” season of 1983-84. Their 101 points was a 22-point improvement and 47 wins was a 13-win improvement from the 2013-14 season. Capuano has led the team to a 165-148-46 record and two playoff appearances. Following the disappointing 2013-14 season, Snow brought in Jaroslav Halak, Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolay Kulemin, Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy. After 4 seasons behind the bench Capuano finally had a very competitive team and his players play hard for him.
The Cons of Keeping Cappy
Capuano detractors can also say that playoffs were a given with the amount of talent this team has. They failed to advance in the playoffs for the last 22 years. Islanders fans are constantly scratching their head with some of his decisions. Whether it’s his lack of in-game adjustments to his inability to use his timeouts. Jack they do not carry over. His lineup decisions are also questionable. Defenseman Calvin de Haan was scratched down the stretch for Brian Strait. Grabovski and Kulemin was brought in pretty much as a tandem. Their biggest success in the league came in the 2010-11 season with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Kulemin netted 30 goals while Grabovski scored 29 playing on the same line. Capuano waited until Game 7 of the playoffs to play them together.
But perhaps the fans biggest gripe with him was his decision to scratch Anders Lee, second on the team with 25 goals, in favor of Colin McDonald. The team did not need McDonald, who is kind of an agitator in the lineup when you had Matt Marin, Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cikizas on the fourth line. They needed scoring, they needed a spark on the power play, which went scoreless in the series. Lee could have provided that.
The Next Level
Many of the recent Stanley Cup Champions have made coaching changes that resulted in hoisting the Cup. The Chicago Blackhawks fired Denis Savard just four games into the 2008-09 season. The Blackhawks replaced Savard with Joel Quenneville and won three of the past six Stanley Cups. The Los Angeles Kings fired Terry Murray after losing two straight years in the first round. Darryl Sutter replaced Murray and the Kings have won two Cups. The Pittsburgh Penguins fired Michel Therrien with 25 games left in the 2008-09 season and Dan Bylsma was brought in. The Penguins won the Cup that season. The leash will be short on Jack Capuano. The team needs to get off to a fast start like last season, winning the first 4 games and 14 of their first 20 games. As the old saying goes “you can’t fire 20 players”.