The first major act of the Islanders' offseason is to stay the course behind the bench.
General manager Garth Snow told Newsday that he will not be making a coaching change, so Jack Capuano will return for a fifth season behind the Islanders' bench.
"Cappy will be back as our coach," Snow said. "I have no intention of making a change."
With that news out of the way, Snow, Capuano and the rest of the staff began several days of exit interviews Monday. The Isles' sixth season in the last seven without a postseason berth may not have inspired massive change, but it certainly isn't sitting well with the team's core players.
"It's a big disappointment standing here right now," Frans Nielsen said. "It's not what we expected. We just have to realize how hard we worked last year, how tough it was to get to the playoffs, and we have to get back to that."
The Islanders finished the season 12-7-3 in the final 22 games without John Tavares, whose season-ending knee injury in the Olympics in February was one of too many negatives for a team that appeared ready to turn a corner with its playoff appearance last spring.
Snow's trade of popular wing Matt Moulson for Thomas Vanek on Oct. 27 had the opposite of its intended effect; the Islanders were 4-4-3 when Vanek was acquired and went 5-15-4 in the next 24 games, killing their season.
"It might have, at first," Tavares said of the chemistry damage done when Moulson was traded. "We didn't play too well when Thomas got here those first few weeks. Certainly it was a big shakeup and it was a big shock to a lot of us in the room. We welcomed Thomas with open arms and there was some time to get that comfort level. Clearly the results didn't show on the ice right away."
Vanek, Tavares and Kyle Okposo had good chemistry through December and January as the Isles made a move to get back on their feet, but once Vanek rejected a seven-year, $50-million deal in the middle of January, the team sagged again heading into the Olympic break. Then Tavares was injured and Vanek was dealt March 5 for a small return, heightening the indignation of the fan base and the ridicule of some national commentators.
But even with injuries and insults, Capuano coached a rookie-heavy group to a decent finish. The Islanders went 17-5-2 in their final 24 road games, contrasting with a 13-19-9 home record as they head into their final season at Nassau Coliseum.
In addition to keeping the coaching staff intact, Snow said he is not ready to drastically change the core of the team.
"We certainly need to add in some areas, either through trade or free agency," Snow said. "I don't think we're at the point yet [where I'm looking to trade core players]. We're always looking for ways to improve, but we're sticking with the core guys. We're built around one of the top centers in the game."
Tavares was on pace for his best season before his injury and still managed to finish among the top 30 scorers in the league with 24 goals and 42 assists in only 59 games. With his first season as captain under his belt, Tavares is happy that Capuano will be back and sees a team that can reach the level that those inside the locker room expected after last season.
"Cap knows a lot of us really well. We've had success with Cap," Tavares said. "Same with Dougie [Weight] and Tommer [assistant coach Brent Thompson]. All those guys bring something different to the table and we had success with it last year. For whatever reason, we'll have to figure out why it didn't work this year, and we as players will have to make some changes. They'll want to make some changes as well, I'm sure."