Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky could have gone big. The Islanders’ owners could have bucked decades of franchise tradition and blown the whole thing up, found themselves a big-name executive to run the front office and a bigger-name coach to run the bench at the start of this pivotal offseason for the team.
But they did no such thing. Doug Weight was named the head coach on Wednesday, a move that signified two things: One, that president and general manager Garth Snow undoubtedly will have full control of hockey decisions entering his 12th season in the front office, and two, that John Tavares and his contract extension are the foremost thoughts for the owners.
Malkin and Ledecky have made no public statements since the Islanders’ season ended last Sunday one point short of the playoffs, and they appear to have no plans to do so. But the decision to take the interim tag off Weight speaks volumes. The owners’ year-long search for a president of hockey operations either failed to produce a viable candidate or the owners were happy with what they saw from Snow’s and Weight’s team in the final 40 games, when the Isles went 24-12-4 to nearly erase a miserable first half of the season.
The owners certainly talked to plenty of potential candidates — Newsday learned that Wayne Gretzky was offered a role in the Islanders’ hierarchy a few months back that The Great One, entrenched among Edmonton’s decision-makers now, politely declined — but Snow and Weight are in charge. Agents and executives on other teams have been given no indication that they’ll deal with anyone but those two in the coming months.
Given Snow’s four playoff appearances in 11 seasons and Weight’s role as assistant GM and assistant/interim coach for six seasons, missing the playoffs in half of those, that decision can be debated all offseason long.
At least Malkin and Ledecky made a quick move. The owners have been courting Pat Brisson, Tavares’ agent, all season long, keeping the Tavares camp abreast of all relevant information — about the team’s future home, about the front office, all of it. The move to keep Weight had plenty to do with keeping Tavares, who has one year left on his contract but can sign an extension on July 1.
Tavares reportedly will let the Islanders know in the next few weeks whether he’s interested in that extension — it would be for eight years and more than $10 million per year, no doubt — or whether he’s not sure about the future of the franchise. Which would mean Snow almost certainly would trade his star player before the summer is out, which means the Isles would be scrambling to recover from such a headlining rejection.
There are other roster decisions looming. The Islanders could use a bona fide No. 2 center behind Tavares, they likely will move an established defenseman in a trade in addition to possibly losing one in the June expansion draft, their goaltending situation isn’t terribly stable and they must find room for prospects Mathew Barzal and Josh Ho-Sang on the 2017-18 opening night roster.
All of those pale beside the Tavares decision, of course. And the owners’ course of action barely a week into the offseason says that keeping Snow in charge and Weight behind the bench was shrewder than making drastic changes that could have turned the captain off.