Steve Stirling was a company man to the bitter end,
even to the point of running practice yesterday at Nassau Coliseum despite his
fate being all but sealed. An eighth loss in nine games, a seven-point gap from
a playoff berth and furious fans calling for his head created the formula for
change for tonight's game against the Calgary Flames at the Coliseum.
By today, the "Fire Stirling!" chants will have achieved their objective.
It's possible that the "Mike Must Go" chants might come to fruition, as well.
Mike Milbury's status as general manager is uncertain.
What is certain is that the Islanders called a news conference for today
after the team's morning skate, when it is expected that Milbury will announce
that assistant coach Brad Shaw will take over as interim head coach and run the
bench for tonight's game against the Flames.
Some expected Milbury to take over for Stirling. With more than half of the
season left (43 games), the Islanders aren't out of the playoff hunt in the
was against going back to the bench for a third time in his 10-year tenure with
So it will be Shaw, 41, a former NHL defenseman with four years of
head-coaching experience in the minor leagues. Aside from this season, Shaw has
one year behind an NHL bench: as an assistant coach with the 1999-2000 Tampa
It is not likely the Islanders will conduct a search for a head coach to
take over this season. The team will likely hire one in the offseason as part
of a major turnover.
The leading candidate is former Islanders captain Brent Sutter, who has had
tremendous success as a junior coach and coach of Team Canada's back-to-back
gold medal-winning teams at the World Junior Championships.
Two of the Islanders' top prospects, 2005 first-round pick Ryan O'Marra and
2004 second-round pick Blake Comeau played for Sutter at the World Juniors
Sutter is a hot commodity now, especially with the Devils looking for a new
coach. Lamoriello has long had a good relationship with the Sutter family,
including Flames GM/coach Darryl Sutter. But it is not expected that Brent
would leave his junior team in Red Deer, Alberta, which he owns and serves as
GM and coach, in mid-season.
So let the courtship begin.
Shaw will be the eighth coaching change Milbury has made since January
1997, when he replaced himself with Rick Bowness in order to concentrate solely
on his responsibilities as general manager. It is also the fifth midseason
coaching change made by Milbury. The last came in March 2001, when Lorne
Henning was promoted to interim coach to replace Butch Goring. That team
finished last overall in the NHL and Henning was gone.
Stirling, who finished with a career record of 56-51-13-4, coached the
Islanders to a third consecutive playoff berth in 2003-04, but this season,
with a completely revamped defense, the team struggled from the start and
hovered around the .500 mark through mid-December. But an embarrassing 9-6
defeat in Toronto on Dec. 19 was the beginning of the end. The team has won
just two games since then, Dec. 21 against the Devils and last Wednesday over
The team is now four games under .500 (18-22-4) and seven points behind the
Devils and Tampa Bay for the eighth spot in the East. After back-to-back
losses to Carolina, Stirling was on shaky ground. Tuesday's 2-1 loss to
Nashville was the final straw.
Milbury's first attempt to shake up the team came just hours before the
Nashville game when he traded veteran defenseman Janne Niinimaa to Dallas in a
salary dump to clear space under the $39-million salary cap and next year's
cap. The move also allowed the team to promote rookie defenseman Bruno Gervais
from the minors.
Look for more of the same kind of moves in the near future, though getting
someone to take on Alexei Yashin's contract will be next to impossible.
History of failure
The Islanders have had 11 coaches in their 33-season history; Steve
Stirling is one of only three to post a winning record.
Al Arbour 739-537-223
Peter Laviolette 77-62-19-6
Steve Stirling 56-51-13-4
Phil Goyette 6-38-4
Earl Ingarfield 6-22-2
Bill Stewart 11-19-7
Lorne Henning 19-39-7
Butch Goring 24-89-14-4
Rick Bowness 37-50-12
Mike Milbury 57-111-24
Terry Simpson 81-82-24
Flames at Islanders
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