No tears for Jack Capuano. As a hockey lifer he always has known how it works for a head coach: He takes ownership. The poor record, last-place standing, stalled player development and late-game collapses are all his. Fair enough. That said, the fact remains that the Islanders still are Garth Snow’s team.
The fact within the fact is that, as anyone who has studied the roster or watched the games can tell you, the team is just not good enough.
Snow had a bad offseason, failing to compensate for the losses of Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo and Matt Martin and oddly signing then waiving PA Parenteau. The Islanders have followed up with a bad half-season, clinging to what National Hockey League people call a .500 record when the truth is that they have won eight fewer games than they have lost (counting overtime and shootout defeats). So Snow made the move that foundering clubs make; he fired the coach.
“When you’re a head coach in this league sometimes you’re the victim of different circumstances, situations,” Snow said on a conference call on Tuesday. “It might be health, it might be a bad goal here or there, it might be a missed assignment on a backcheck . . . Unfortunately, coaches bear the brunt of those decisions.”
As a hockey lifer himself, Snow knows how it works for a general manager: Once the coach has been dispatched, the general manager is on the thinnest ice.
“I don’t worry about that,” Snow said. “I just worry about what I have to do every day.”
Now his day revolves around shopping for a new coach to lead a team that clearly needs more than a new coach.
The Islanders need an updated blueprint and a broader vision. They missed their chance to build on having finally won a playoff series for the first time in 23 years. It is hard to keep thinking of them as a team of the future, what with John Tavares in his eighth season and the wave of young players behind him never having flourished.
Capuano has to bear responsibility there. Maybe he got all he could from Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, even Josh Bailey, but he came in with the reputation as a developer and those guys haven’t developed. The coach has to take his medicine, too, for some listless defensive play and inconsistent energy lately.
But the coach cannot be held accountable for Tavares still not having solid first-line wingers after all these years. Nor was it Capuano’s decision to keep three goalies, costing the Islanders payroll and roster flexibility.
First-year co-owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin seem to know that their operation needs new direction, judging from reports by Newsday’s Arthur Staple and others that the two men have been meeting with potential team presidents. Ledecky and Malkin apparently want a hockey person to come in and run the whole show.
Where that would leave Snow is anyone’s guess. But as of Tuesday, he sure still was in charge. His bosses were aware of what he was planning and let him do it. “It’s not a dictatorship,” Snow said.
It is strange, though, that if the owners really are interested in a new chief, they did not make a clean sweep as their Barclays Center co-tenant Nets did a year ago last week. Brooklyn’s NBA team dislodged coach Lionel Hollins and general manager Billy King on the same day, starting a fresh page. Maybe Ledecky and Malkin truly believe in Snow. Maybe they inherited Charles Wang’s utter faith in the general manager, or maybe there is a huge buyout provision in the contract Snow signed with Wang.
In any case, the owners ought to realize that the Islanders need more players and they need someone who can find and sign them.
Snow on Tuesday acknowledged his role in this sad season. “Obviously, I’m not hiding from the fact that it starts with me,” he said.
But as ousters go, it started with Capuano. Now more than ever, this is Snow’s team. We will see where it goes from here, and who might bring it there.
Comparing the Islanders through 42 games in the past two seasons:
105 Goals Allowed128