Islanders Fire Jack Capuano, But Larger Problems Remain

The New York Islanders announced Tuesday that they relieved Head Coach Jack Capuano of his duties, effective immediately. The firing comes seven years after Capuano was installed as Interim head coach in November of 2010. The interim tag was removed in April of that same season and he had been behind the Islanders bench ever since.

The move itself does not come as much of a surprise. The Islanders have been one of the NHL’s most disappointing teams this season, currently sitting in last place in the Metropolitan Division despite accumulating an even 100 points last season and gaining the franchise’s first berth in the conference semifinals since 1993. When a team is underachieving as much as the Islanders are right now, the obvious solution is to fire the coach.

However, questions will be raised as to whether the Islanders have fired the right guy. Capuano, despite being the fourth-longest tenured coach in the NHL before today, is not regarded as one of the premier coaches in the league. It is popular analysis among not just Islander fans, but NHL fans in general, that Capuano has taken the franchise as far as it can go, that the “ceiling” for a Capuano coached team was the conference semifinals.

Still, Capuano is absolutely not at fault for the Islanders poor performance this season. The blame for this season’s shortcomings fall squarely on the shoulders of General Manager Garth Snow, who let the Islanders second and third best players (Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen) walk in free agency this past season. Snow is not at fault for the disappointing seasons of Jason Chimera and Andrew Ladd, the veteran players he brought in to replace Okposo and Nielsen, but he is at fault for the horrible contracts he gave them. Ladd’s contract in particular is a real head scratcher for Islander fans: a seven year, $38.5 Million contract for a 30-year-old winger is at best, a player-friendly contract, and at worst, a contract that will severely inhibit the team’s ability to sign big-name free agents for the better part of half a decade. Snow should be shown the door as well as Capuano, and I would be stunned to see him as Islanders General Manager this October.

The Islanders are facing more serious problems than just cap space, however. The organization better get themselves together quickly or seriously run the risk of franchise cornerstone John Tavares leaving the team when his contract is up in the summer of 2018.

To his credit, Tavares seems happy playing for the Islanders and has never made any indication that he will be leaving the team at the end of his current contract. Yet, he will be 27 years old in the summer of 2018, entering the final years of his physical prime. He will need to take a hard look at the state of the franchise next summer to see if he can seriously envision himself winning a Stanley Cup with the team that drafted him. If he can’t, then other opportunities may seem far more enticing (his home team of Toronto is often mentioned as a potential landing spot should he not sign a new deal in Brooklyn).

The Islanders should be very thankful Tavares’s contract is not up this summer. If it was, why would a top 10 player in the league sign away (at least) seven more years of his career to a franchise that is handcuffed by bad contracts, plays in one of the least player-friendly arenas in the country, and is undergoing tremendous turnover in senior management?

Players like Tavares come once in a generation. He may not be a perpetual MVP candidate like Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin, but he’s still a tremendous player who is a fantastic captain and a great ambassador for the local community and the game of hockey. The Islanders simply cannot lose him.

You’ve got 18 months, guys. Fix this mess before it’s too late.

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