So New York reporters took a look at new Islanders coach Scott Gordon yesterday and liked what they saw: He was nervous about the big press
to-do ("Ooh, fresh meat," they told themselves), but he stuck around an extra hour answering questions and he generally made sense. He explained his strengths in defensive systems, but he also left the appetizing suggestion that his team won't be strictly a modern-age trapfest: The man likes him some team speed and some forechecking
Speed -- whether it scores or it recklessly runs off the rails -- is never boring. So the reporters and fans may have gotten what they want. GM Garth Snow definitely got what he wants. But other than an NHL job and better travel to games, did Gordon get what he
Perhaps the more answerable question is: What does a new NHL coach see when he looks at the Islanders? Let's consider. Feel free to add yours:
Franchise Goaltender? Check.
Outsiders may consider him merely "franchise" by default because of the contract, but Rick DiPietro showed last year that he has the head and the ability -- when healthy -- to carry a team. He was a huge key to their strong start, and before he was injured, longtime observers noticed how much he'd matured, both in efficiency of movement and in puckhandling decisions. The inevitable, exaggerated "is he playoff material?" debate can wait until he actually gets a fair shake in the playoffs.A Margin of Error? Check.
Gordon's not taking over the Sharks, who have the players and the expectations to win It All now, but have lacked the delivery. Instead, Gordon's taking over a team committed to youth (i.e. growing pains are expected), run by a GM who's plan and employment depends on making it work for the long haul with his hand-picked coach. Even if the club struggles this year, and possibly next year, it is likely Snow will stick with him for longer than a GM in another situation would.
Likewise, blame might fall on the players -- even the prospects: Remember, Snow thought the Islanders were a playoff team last year. He also thought the prospects should've played more under Ted Nolan, because we don't know what we have until they get their chance. With Gordon, they will get their chance.A Defense He can Work with? Check (I think).
Brendan Witt will jump on several grenades to stop a goal, then hobble his remaining flesh up ice to finish a check. Marc Streit provides enough puck-moving smarts to let us think the powerplay will inevitably improve. Andy Sutton can deliver intimidating open-ice checks (granted, it was under Ted Nolan's scheme) without getting all Pilon'd
out of position. Radek Martinek is one steady Vaclav out there. Freddy Meyer, when given the chance last year, was a balanced mix of all of the above. And Chris Campoli and Bruno Gervais, when healthy, have the makings of solid 3-4 defensemen but may well be used as 5-6.
There are some "ifs" here, but this blueline corps has the mobility and a bit of size to do whatever Gordon asks. That said, I'm sure Gordon wouldn't refuse a Pronger if one fell from the sky.Proven Scorers? Rain check.
If he's looking at this lineup, Gordon has to be honest with himself and know there's not a single forward that makes him say, "Count on 20 goals from that guy." There's potential, sure, but you don't know when age catches up to Bill Guerin (Father Time says: "Soon."). You know Doug Weight, if
he fully revives, will get his points from assists, not goals. Mike Comrie's season may depend on the chemistry that develops with his wingers (Kyle Okposo?). Okposo has 20-, juuust maybe 30-goal potential at this level, but that's a lot to ask from a rookie still in his first year as a professional. Jeff Tambellini received a long-term commitment that implies he will be a 20-goaler someday, but the jury is still far, far out on his NHL potential.
The glass-half-full perspective for Gordon is: a) This is where the speed and forechecking game comes in (if you can't blow them out, blow them up and convert the turnovers); and b) the assortment of pesky forwards with hands should get their share of goals: Bergenheim, Comeau, Sim, Sillinger, Hunter, Nielsen ... all guys who should at least score in the teens during a full season.
Of course, two 20-goal scorers and a bunch of guys in the teens is what the 30th-scoring Islanders had last year. Fedotenko,
Vasicek and Satan tied for third-most on the team with 16 each. Gordon has to know scoring will remain a big chore, and if it improves, it will likely come from improving the 29th-ranked powerplay. Welcome to the party, pal.Mid-Season Talent Infusion? Negative.
Suppose the Isles are nibbling around a playoff spot at mid-season, but some injuries or glaring weaknesses threaten to spiral them downward. Will Snow swoop in and save the day? Of course not. It's not in the plan, it's not in the budget, and the Isles do not have the cupboard nor the inclination to part with any assets that could bring back legitimate help. Gordon must know this season's success depends wholly on the roster he saw during his job interview.
But that's where that margin of error comes in. I'm by no means down on the season's prospects -- if anything, I'm pleased with the hiring and ready to see how he works. But that is the perspective on the club I imagine a coaching candidate like Gordon took into the interview. It's a mixed bag, to be sure, but there are some bright spots -- not the least of which is the unspoken promise that he will get plenty of time to make the most of his make-or-break shot in the NHL.