These are not Jack Capuano’s New York Islanders. These are Garth Snow’s New York Islanders.
Yes, Capuano coached them for seven seasons. The odd lineup decisions were his. The inability to get something out of young talent, something that’s cut the legs out from this franchise, was his. The way that a 100-point team, which the Islanders have been for the last two seasons, always felt like it was 100 miles from Stanley Cup contention was partially his fault, too.
With 40 games left in the season and eight points away from the last wild card slot, it was clear to ownership that Capuano wasn’t working. So they empowered Snow to fire him.
“This is an organizational decision. It’s not a dictatorship. There’s lots of dialogue, all throughout the organization, when big decisions were made,” said Snow. “At the end of the day, I don’t think that Jack was going to be a coach that we were going to bring back. To name Dougie Weight the interim head coach, we can start our coaching search now and not worry about the ramifications of that with Jack as the head coach.”
But Jack Capuano was Garth Snow’s coach. He hired him in 2010, seeing him as a chain-of-succession choice to replace Scott Gordon, and to have someone who knew the players, take over. (The same trope applied to Weight as the Islanders’ new interim coach.)
Snow supported him throughout his tenure with the Islanders, even as the fans demanded change and even as it was obvious to most that Capuano was at best a serviceable coach but, ultimately, the “guy you fire before you hire the guy who wins for you.”
Thus the failure of Capuano is Snow’s failure, like the failure of this roster is Snow’s failure.
And this isn’t us saying this – it’s what Garth Snow is saying.
“I take 100 percent [responsibility]. I don’t think there’s a player on our roster I haven’t had a hand in drafting, picking up off waivers or via a trade or a free-agent signing. Or with the staff, with trainers or coaches,” he said.
Snow’s a well-liked general manager around the league, and not just because he bestows gifts like Nino Niederreiter to other teams in exchange for fourth liners. He’s seen as a guy who makes the most of what he’s given. He’s seen as a guy who manages to attract talent to the team even though there are franchise reputations and arena-based challenges. All of this is a surefire way to be painted as a better GM than you actually are. (See also Maloney, Don.)
He’s been living off the glory of standing under the right apple tree with a bucket when Johnny Boychuk fell from the Boston Bruins’ cap and Nick Leddy did the same in Chicago; and for getting great goaltending from the duo of Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss, despite not understanding it was an aberration.
But where Capuano was completely right this season was in subtly criticizing Snow for his inability to replace Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen in anything close to a sufficient way. Unless you think Andrew Ladd is an offensive Vesuvius ready to erupt.
When asked about that on Tuesday, Snow blamed the salary cap.
“We’re not the only team that has to operate under the salary cap, and I think other teams have to make changes from year to year to comply with that salary cap,” he said.
The cap might have cost them Nielsen, but Okposo was certainly not cap-related – they just didn’t want him back. But let’s pause on the salary cap for a moment: The Islanders have $71.43 million committed to it right now, via Cap Friendly. That’s in the neighborhood of the Los Angeles Kings and the St. Louis Blues. Where does it all go? How can a team this underwhelming cost this much?
Capuano’s firing is the first indication that things are going to change behind the scenes for the Islanders under Jon Ledecky, who was on the most recent road trip for the team, and Scott Malkin. The next step could be firing Snow. Or if could be hiring someone that will eventually fire him, i.e. the team president they’ve been circling for some time. It has to change, and change soon, given the fact that John Tavares is due a new contract and would like to know this franchise has a rudder.
When a team president does arrive, they’ll be his New York Islanders, and he will tasked with fixing the parts of it that don’t work.
“Obviously I don’t hide from the fact that it starts with me,” said Snow.
Neither will the Islanders.
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