November 15, 2010
In three seasons as New York Islanders head coach, Scott Gordon has survived injured franchise goalies, an inexperienced roster with underwhelming contributions, an owner crying about his arena woes and a team that either couldn't attract top-flight talent via free agency or wouldn't pay for it.
He could not, however, survive a 10-game losing streak. So Scott Gordon is no longer the New York Islanders' head coach.
"When we're in the situation that we're in right now ... sometimes you have to go with your gut and make decisions that are tough," said GM Garth Snow Monday, on Gordon's removal as coach.
The team announced that Jack Capuano, head coach of the AHL's Bridgeport Sound Tigers for four seasons, has been elevated to interim head coach as Gordon will now become "an adviser to General Manager Garth Snow." The Islanders are 4-10-3 for 11 points, tied with the Edmonton Oilers in the NHL's basement.
"It's very disappointing. It's a situation where Scott's an excellent coach and a good friend," said Snow.
Gordon was as much a symbol of the Islanders' rebuilding as Snow: Bright new face, AHL success story, beloved figure in the NHL coaching community. But, alas, it was a match that never seemed right between coach and roster.
Perhaps it was appropriate that Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" played before the conference call announcing his firing began.
Gordon just never seemed to be able to make things click, whether it was a lack of success in the standings or an inability to kick-start the offense with some strong young players. (The Islanders have been in the bottom 10 in offense in each of Gordon's seasons, and sit 20th currently.)
"The biggest issue with our team right now is offense," said Snow.
They've scored 37 goals and surrendered 58.
As is tradition during Gordon's tenure, they've been decimated by injuries: Top winger Kyle Okposo(notes) is out until next month with a bum shoulder, and All-Star defenseman Mark Streit(notes) is out at least four more months after rotator-cuff surgery. They showed flashes of potential in October as a pesky, competitive team. Now they're a cupcake on everyone else's schedule, which meant it's time for Gordon to go.
The coach had his champions throughout the hockey world. There was plenty of optimism when he was hired, but we weren't ready to crown him as the next AHL coach-turned-NHL sensation.
Chris Botta of NYI Point Blank had this take on Gordon late last season, writing that he was set to become only the second coach in Islanders history to coach three straight seasons:
No matter how the Islanders complete the final 20 games of this regular season, there is little doubt whether Gordon will stay. In the summer of 2008, Garth Snow went in search of a coach he could keep around a long time. The general manager wanted a coach who would instill a system of play and teach as young players were added to the roster. There is a reason there haven't been any lineup-busting, 3-for-3 trades, and won't be.
You wanted patience in the Country, you got it.
A move away from Gordon in the offseason would be an uncharacteristic step back for the "program," like trading a core young player. Snow has invested a lot in Gordon's development as an NHL coach. The core kids -- led by Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey(notes), John Tavares(notes), Frans Nielsen(notes) and young dmen Jack Hillen(notes) and Andrew MacDonald(notes) -- have been schooled in the Gordon way.
A coaching change would make little sense. When you consider Bob Hartley is the main man in Snow's bullpen, a change is potentially disastrous.
It's not Hartley ... yet. Snow said the focus is on Wednesday's game for the Isles. Capuano is the interim coach "as we speak right now." So perhaps the door is open for another move.
One hopes the Islanders would go in a more veteran route with their next bench boss (unless Capuano orchestrates a turnaround and shakes the interim tag).
Of course, that assumes Snow and Wang will make a move like that. Old coaches are expensive; Capuano is not. Old coaches are sometimes uncontrollable; Capuano will be. Capuano was hired in part because there's a "comfort" with him, Snow said. "There doesn't need to be a feeling-out process," he said.
Status quo and dreary homogeny is the last thing Islanders fans want to hear about. But that's what they've got, for now.