Why the Islanders Will Turn it Around Under Jack Capuano

Editor's Note from Dom: Really extensive, thought-provoking FanPost from JPinVA that provides too much fun and fodder not to feature it on the front page. We could spend days mulling and debating different aspects...and I expect we will!

Theory: The Islanders had too much non-Scott Gordon talent. They had limited ability to change the talent and Gordon was locked into his system. There was also too little time afforded the turn-around given their resources. To make this a "Scott Gordon" team was going to take at least another three years just to make the playoffs.

The main source of talent for this team was the core left over from the transition from Ted Nolan. The team was slow, and seemed to be headed for more of a power-forward oriented offense. I'm sure any coach would have liked better skaters, and especially a more mobile defense, but the Isles were limited in that regard. There lack of access to the free agent market also left them with older talent that was on the downside of their career.

The Foundation

These are the players from the previous regime.

Offense (Alphabetically)

Sean Bergenhiem: Should have been a good fit, but there was never any real buy-in and he wasn't a Garth Snow draft pick... probably not a Wang favorite either... Sean needed a change. Not an earth shaker.

Blake Comeau: Not a swift skater. Talent is creating space so he can utilize a better than average shot. He's what Nolan wanted to cultivate, he's extended past his limits by Gordon.

Bill Guerin: One man's captain is another man's pain in the ass. On a team devoid of any real leadership, Bill Guerin is missed.

Andy Hilbert: Perfect fit for the Nolan to Gordon transition. Why this didn't work probably lies in Andy's inability to become more productive in this environment.

Trent Hunter: See Blake Comeau... only slower, smarter(?) and grandfathered in with a 5 year contract. If Gordon stayed I expect that Hunter would have been shopped at every opportunity.

Tim Jackman: Made the transition perfectly. He was third tier talent though, injured, and showed no mastery of any of his abilities.

Frans Nielsen: Frans is gold in any system. He was probably the best of the holdovers.

Kyle Okposo: Only played 9 games under Nolan, but KO was perfect for a re-tooling under Nolan. He is a skilled player with very good skating ability, so he did, and most likely would have continued to succeed under Scott Gordon. As Capuano reverts to a system based on his surrounding talent Kyle will benefit tremendously. Both he and Josh were rushed to the NHL... If Jack is retained these two will be cornerstones in a successful rebuild.

Richard Park: Another of the Nolan holdover that should have been greatly successful on a Scott Gordon team. Unfortunately he was on the other side of the mountain, small and never produced at a top six forward rate. Letting Park go affected the locker room, and may be the single most (besides injury) meaningful move leading to a 14 game losing streak.

Jon Sim: Sim was brought on because he had a Ted Nolan sensibility. Sim goes to the dark places and creates opportunities. He is an ancillary piece, though, and there are not enough primary pieces to make his talents effective. He still does what he does.. but it's not a key to a Gordon system. Jack was able to allow his talents to shine in BP amongst lesser players. He'll be important both in the NHL as an instigator and in the AHL as a teacher.

Jeff Tambellini: This really should have worked out. I really thought that the best recent Islander for a Scott Gordon system would have been Jason Blake... and I thought Tambellini was a young Jason Blake. This is one I put directly on Gordon. He couldn't even tweak Tambellini into being a key piece.


Chris Campoli: You'd have thought that Chris was a perfect fit. Well Chris may have thought he was more than he was and Gordon isn't a people person... adios.

Bruno Gervais: Bruno has been on a roller coaster since he got here. He was the second fiddle of young puck-moving defensemen behind Campoli... he could never get on the PP, even after Campoli was ex-Isled and he seems lost going from the simple NHL ABC (that he started to show signs of growth in under Nolan) to the Rube Goldbergian system of recognition that Gordon installed. He is only playing on the team today because he is cheap and less fragile than most of his teammates.

Radek Martinek: Much like Frans, Radek would survive in any system because he is a very good, smart hockey player. They don't outshine other players but they create ambient light so that the others players can see through the darkness. They will be NY Islanders as long as they don't make Charles Wang reach too deep in his pocket. Marty is a tough sign because of his fragility, but losing him with the current blah third rate defensemen would be a mistake in year four. Until the fresh crop are ready. Radek, when healthy, is a solid top four defender... and shouldn't be too costly. He'll also ride the tide of change, where-ever Capuano leads them. Having a healthy Radek in year two may have given Gordon more time in year three.

Freddy Meyer: He made himself what I thought was the perfect 5/6 go-go defenseman. He was cheap, he was effective, and he was gone because they were going to retry with such luminary veterans as Mottau, Eaton and a last minute prayer, Wisniewski. Sorry freddy... we made you, we can break you.

Andy Sutton: Andy WAS SUCCESFUL in the go-go... but he was injury prone, expensive and on the other side of the mountain... so the first team that had an extra bag of kitty litter got him... even when he opened the door for return (another iceberg in the SS Botta/Snow cross Atlantic journey) he was told to look elsewhere for employment.

Brendan Witt: Brendon was never going to be a Scott Gordon defenseman. He never had recovery speed to be below the hash marks in the offensive zone, and he wasn't getting any faster. Injury and age finally caught up to a great warrior. Brendan, though, was the best example of trying to implement a new system IN SPITE of the current talent.

Goaltending: All Scott got was an oft-injured and rehabbing Rick DiPietro. His prolonged absence definitely affected Gordon's ability to succeed. But even an effective Dipietro would have been too little too late.

Free Agents

He was left alone with his pen when it came time to re-sign players in July 2007. He wound up with, as us Italians from Brooklyn like to call, "stugots".

Being the GM under the circus tent was not new to Garth Snow. Knowing this he got on the tightrope and launched Nolan out of the cannon.

I think we've identified the type of player that Scott Gordon needs to be successful and in three UFA periods they have landed Mark Streit... and that's it. Sure Snow has done an okay job filling cracks with guys like Biron, Roloson, Eaton and Mottau. But that's not how to turn a roster over in three years. He was left with almost nothing and they have gone backwards in the 25-30 year old player demographic.

The Future (Draft order)

Let's say the retooling started with the 2006 draft and Kyle Okposo. Here's what the future of the club looks like:


Kyle Okposo: (see above)

Jesse Joensuu: He is definitely a NO FIT in the Gordon system. He's too slow. He was brought in because of being a big body with hands. If they take the shackles off and move more towards an offense that doesn't depend on chasing the puck in the offensive and neutral zones Jesse might turn out to be something... he still has yet to prove it though.

Robin Figren: Another no fit guy. Figren's WJC was rather impressive... much like another later FIRST ROUND pick. He was transitioned into white board hockey and really hasn't had time to develop into that kind of player. Again, hopefully freeing him up will make him more productive.

Rhett Rakhshani: Eventually I thought Rhett would have been a good Gordon fit. He skates well and is a naturally aggressive forward. Very much in the mold of a Jason Blake. He would have helped Gordon survive, he will improve team speed if they can get a bag of kitty litter for Trent Hunter.

Andrew MacDonald: Biggest value of the 2006 picks. A product of Nolan and Flynn's philosophy in Moncton and became a steady NHL defenseman very quickly. Learned quickly under Capuano and worked well under Gordon, and will help Capuano again when he returns.


Mark Katic: Could have helped in a Gordon System. Injuries may have limited his window to prove himself. Every time they need him, and there is an open door... he's out. That window closes a little more with the emergence of Travis Hamonic and eventually Calvin deHaan.


Josh Bailey: Rushed...rushed...and rushed. Josh may be the best example of why you don't expose anybody less than EXTRAORDINARY as an 18-year-old against MEN. Gordon saying earlier in the year that they had done "everything right" with Josh because he started the season well was like Maclean Stevenson saying he made an excellent career choice with Hello Larry because their Christmas episode didn't finish last in the ratings. Josh was a NOLAN guy. Josh will be a Jack guy. Josh needs to be free of the dry erase board and get his confidence back. Hopefully he'll get a chance to do that while working with the younger forwards to develop a better organization. This should have been going on the first two years of his career.

Hamonic/Petrov/Donovan/Ullstrom/Martin... This draft class has Ted Nolan written all over it.

When were they going to bring in kids that could help Scott Gordon?


John Tavares: JT is Ryan Smyth... that's what I see when I watch him play. I'm very happy and I'm glad they drafted him... but again... this is not the kind of player that you want depending on an aggressive forecheck for offense. Why are you going to dry erase this kids talent by making him into something different. If they were drafting for Gordon they'd have taken the better skater Duchene, or the big need in a puck moving defenseman that was also a big body in Hedman.

CDH/the goalies/Cizikas/Klementyev/Lee... Besides deHaan who there fits in the Gordon mold? They may have talent, but as far as I know these are big forwards and defensemen that don't ooze speed and stamina.


Nino Niederreiter: He's going to help in any system... and he probably grows into a Gordon player if they give him three years including a year in the AHL to understand the chalkboard. If this was a Nolan team Nino is in the NHL next year and he is PRODUCTIVE. There was just too much for him to digest, but you can tell he is going to be in the NHL.

Nelson/Kabanov/DeHart: I've seen one game of Nelson... he's no Scott Gordon player. I can't imagine Petrov or Kabanov ever filling a role where being "creative" isn't nurtured....

Snow/Jankowski blunder?

So WHY did they put these eggs in the Scott Gordon basket. I don't get it. I think Gordon was a good coach, but he needed a certain kind of talent to make things work. All he did was show that he couldn't win with the talent at his disposal. But when you look forward one, two or three years it doesn't get any better in respect to what he needs (I assume) to be successful.

This makes the firing of Ryan Jankowski all the more confusing. From the outside, the organization looks well stocked eventually find success. It appears that at the draft table he took (in a good percentage of cases) the best player available. But rarely did he take the best Scott Gordon player available. Or.. maybe he did... but that SGP is just so rare that we will never see a team comprised of that kind of talent. But this team DOES HAVE TALENT. Maybe it has the best talent since the Peter Laviolette years. A good question to ponder is, if they have talent (if you believe as I do) but it was the wrong talent to go with the coach/system WHY CHANGE BOTH. The future talent was the responsibility of Jankowski. If the firing of Gordon was a step in the right direction, maybe the firing of Jankowski was the two steps back that we often talk about. We'll see.


Jack Capuano is going to get a chance to be the guy to make it work. I don't see this team crawling out of the hole that they are in this year, but I can see this current roster being competitive. Maybe by the end of the year they are a borderline playoff contender... especially if both Streit and Okposo return. But they can never get good enough, fast enough to contend this year.

Jack will benefit from restarting the clock. The talent needs time to develop. He also should have the foresight to use what was working for Gordon and modify it to work with the tools in his shed. What I see Jack doing is simplifying the three areas that were hurting the team, especially the younger players. The team has already shown more offensive creativity, more physicality, and more defensive flexibility.

I think Gordon relied too heavily on creating offense from the forecheck. It was pretty when it worked, but it didn't work often enough. It also never allowed them to become a team that could flow through all three zones. I think we see the tide changing in this regard as they are starting to settle into a more laid back defensive stance that focuses on neutral zone lockdowns (THE TRAP?)

This allows the team to be more PHYSICAL. In Gordon's system it seemed harder to finish a check, and then initiate a forecheck, which could kill your chances of participating in a backcheck. His reign saw the worst ratio of odd man breakouts that I can recall... as an Islander fan of over 30 years. Now guys that used to hit, hit more. Capuano has already shown the genius of being able to use a guy like Gillies to protect a guy like Tavares... this should be taught day one of coaching school, but in two plus years Gordon couldn't figure it out. He may also benefit from the injection of Martin, Joensuu and Hamonic. These are young players that in the future will wear down opposing forwards and defenders. Gordon just never utilized that aspect of the game.

When Breandan Witt tried to explain the defensive system of recognition during an interview he just never seemed to have confidence in it. Okay, Brendan wasn't going to be around long enough for it to matter... but have we seen ONE Islander defenseman be successful in their own zone? If they are successful they are exiled soon afterwards. I am under the impression that job one is to get defenders to worry less about WHO they are defending and worrying more about HOW they are defending. Not that I even know why, but in game four of the Capuano era you've seen a SHUTOUT by a rusty goaltender. Albeit it was against a broken team... but I have a feeling that the KISS principle is going to make a young, "inexpensive" defensive corp so much better.

If Jack is judged by the way the team performs under his reign he will be endorsed sooner than later... and they will improve. That is something that Gordon wasn't able to accomplish. I hope we see a continued improvement under jack, and that Gordon finds success somewhere they have the resources to build a team around his needs.

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