Staple: Islanders step in another chute; where are the ladders?

New York Islanders GM Garth Snow ponders a

New York Islanders GM Garth Snow ponders a question during a news conference on media day at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y. (Credit: John Dunn)

Arthur Staple

Arthur Staple Arthur Staple

Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school

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It had to happen, but the Islanders' firing of Scott Gordon Monday morning helps almost nothing.

This is certainly a setback for owner Charles Wang and general manager Garth Snow, whose rebuilding plan did not include a reset button with a new coach - possibly two if interim coach Jack Capuano doesn't win the permanent gig after this season.

Snow took a chance with Gordon in 2008 after the surprising dismissal of Ted Nolan, hiring a coach with no NHL experience to whip the Isles' young, inexpensive lineup into shape.

Gordon was tough but had a clear vision for the style he wanted to play - aggressive and fast, with quick transitions from defense to offense to suit a young, smallish team.

Capuano, the Bridgeport coach the last three-plus seasons, has the same style in mind. He's an organizational guy. But as the team showed under Gordon, the style didn't get through to the players, who were too decimated by injuries and by talent level to play consistently enough.

So now, with a new coach, Snow has to start over. In April or May, he may have to do the same. It's a big setback, even if the Islanders didn't accomplish much except secure a pair of top-five draft picks with Gordon at the helm.

That change makes it even tougher to sell this rebuild to fans who have already grown tired of waiting for this team to improve. This season was already going south when Mark Streit and Kyle Okposo went down with injuries in training camp; now, with offensive deficiencies that have been a constant problem since Gordon arrived back in full swing, the 10-game winless streak has put the Islanders in a hole even earlier than the past two seasons.

There will be other factors at play the rest of the season: whether to sell off assets such as captain Doug Weight or goaltender Dwayne Roloson for draft picks before the trade deadline, and then what to do with a shaky goalie situation if it's only Rick DiPietro and a few untested young players.

Firing a coach leaves you open to letting the rest of the league wonder where the team is headed. Snow had trouble selling his team and its outdated home arena to free agents in July. What will he be selling next July, when there may be another new coach in place and most likely another top-five draft pick in the fold?

"Our focus is on Wednesday," Snow told Newsday, referring to the next Islanders game, against the Lightning. "We're not looking too far down the road just yet."

It's one thing to stagnate, as the Rangers were when Tom Renney was let go in February of a season in which the team still made the playoffs.

It's another to start from scratch and do it on the cheap, as the Islanders have done. Snow has found some gems in his bargain-hunting the last few years, but now the coach he brought in to overhaul the on-ice system is gone, with a whole new system perhaps to come next season and still no midlevel talent at forward to support John Tavares.

That's a step downward. For a team as far down as the Islanders, up should be the only place they could go; somehow, they've managed to get lower instead.

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