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If not Jack Capuano, then who?

With the knives coming out for Jack Capuano during this losing streak, we look at potential in-season replacements for the Islanders bench.

What if the Isles say "Bye bye, Jack?"
What if the Isles say "Bye bye, Jack?"
Bruce Bennett

My talking about coaching replacements, well, let's say it hasn't been good for the guy behind the bench. Last time I wrote about this it was Scott Gordon, who was summarily fired a few days later. At the time, it was meant to show that the replacements for GoGo were few and far between, translating to him staying on as coach at least until the end of the season. Whoops.

With that being said and with the topic of this article, let's make a few things clear. I am not advocating for Jack Capuano to be fired. I am simply putting forth names of those who might replace him if he is fired. I like Capuano (For some personal reasons, I know. I'm not a journalist. I don't need to be objective.) and I want him to be coach of the Islanders. I must state this again: I am not advocating that Jack Capuano be fired.

Second, in the comments please focus on topic -- on possible replacements. We already have plenty other articles and will have plenty more where you can vent your frustration with lineup and tactical moves by the Isles coaching staff.

OK, with that cleared up, we need to take a look at a few things that will affect who a replacement can be and what Charles Wang's hiring history is.

First, on the in-season candidates: Other teams are generally not going to allow their NHL assistants or their AHL head coaches to leave for another team midseason, effectively cutting off a good portion of viable candidates if the Isles made a move during this shortened season. (There are exceptions, such as Kirk Muller leaving the Predators' AHL affiliate in Milwaukee for the Carolina Hurricanes last season, but that was an arrangement where the Predators knew going in that Muller was seeking an NHL gig.)

Second, let's take a look at the coaches who have been hired during Wang's tenure as owner/"Benevolent" Dictator to see a pattern of hiring. Butch Goring does not make the cut since he was hired before Wang and Kumar took ownership of the team and then was summarily fired. There is a pretty clear one, especially now with a large enough sample size.

Coaching Hires under Wang

Following the names below are the years they were Islanders head coach followed by their previous highest coaching experience weighted for position over level, so that any experience as an AHL head coach is weighted heavier than that experience as an NHL assistant. If they were an NHL head coach, I put the years since their previous post next to the name of the team.

  • Lorne Henning: 2000-01, NHL Head Coach (Islanders, 4 years)
  • Peter Laviolette: 2001-03, AHL Head Coach (Providence Bruins)
  • Steve Sterling: 2003-04; 2005-06, AHL Head Coach (Bridgeport Sound Tigers)
  • Brad Shaw: 2006, NHL Assistant (Islanders)
  • Ted Nolan: 2006-08, NHL Head Coach (Buffalo Dominik Haseks, 9 years)
  • Scott Gordon: 2008-11, AHL Head Coach (Baby B's)
  • Jack Capuano: 2011-Present, AHL Head Coach (BPT)

A couple of things stand out here. For one, there have only been two in-season coaching replacements during Wang's run of the team: 2006 when Brad Shaw replaced the overmatched and hapless Steve Stirling, and 2011 when Capuano took over for GoGo Gordon. Of the seven coaches, two have been NHL head coaches previously, Ted Nolan and Lorne Henning. Both were a good deal removed from their last NHL head coaching position, Henning four seasons and Nolan nine.

Only one NHL assistant was hired, Brad Shaw and then only as an interim.


Wang in his tenure has skewed heavily towards hiring AHL coaches, whether it is from outside the organization in Laviolette and GoGo or from within with Sterling and Capuano. Wang has never hired anyone with just Major Junior (CHL) head coaching experience, although Nolan was coaching in the OHL before he was hired in 2006.

There also is a bit of a pattern: Hire an external (Cough, Providence, cough) AHL coach, fire him. Replace him with Bridgeport's head coach, fire him. Then here's the tricky part since the second cycle has yet to happen. Fire former Brigdeport coach midseason, replace him with an assistant on an interim basis, then hire a former NHL coach who may or may not have been blackballed because of some personal issues with his former players.

Some of my hunches as to who or what the replacement will be: I think the replacement would be an interim with a view to change to a new coaching team in the summer from outside the organization. That would probably mean one of the two assistant coaches for the rest of the season. I don't see them promoting from Bridgeport unless it were more long term like Sterling and Capuano.

So I'll break down the candidates based on internal and external options.

Internal Options

Doug Weight: Current assistant coach, former captain. He has no head coaching experience and is only in his second season as an assistant, a similar profile to Brad Shaw when he was appointed the interim after Sterling's firing. He's also an adviser to the GM so I wouldn't be surprised if Garth put his man in on an interim basis.

Brent Thompson: The other assistant coach, former head coach of the Sound Tigers during the 2011-2012. Prior to that he was head coach in the ECHL. By default he has much more head coaching experience than Weight. For that fact I'd put my money on Thompson as the main in-house candidate to take over if Capuano is let go.

Scot Pellerin: Bridgeport's head coach hired this summer. Prior to that an assistant coach with the Manchester Monarchs for six seasons. Was an assistant with the Monarchs for the first four seasons Thomas Hickey spent in Manchester. This is his first head coaching position. He's probably the third horse in the race behind Thompson and Weight.

Mike Dunham: The organization's roving goalie coach. I doubt it will be him but stranger things have happened.

Ken Morrow: Director of Scouting. He's too happy doing this to step behind the bench, although it would give us a chance to see his Sam Elliot-esque mustache more often.

Eric Boguniecki: Assistant Coach for Bridgeport, 2nd season. Pretty low on the pecking order, but my bet isn't for long. He'll be an AHL head coach or an NHL assistant by this time next year. He's a smart guy whose been around the block.

External Options (i.e. Retreads)

Not many. Basically if we're looking at a mid-season change, it needs to be someone who isn't currently an assistant with an NHL club, and it's highly unlikely that a team would allow its AHL head coach to take a position with another organization in the middle of a season. So we're left looking at the unemployed ex-NHL head coaches. I'm kind of scraping the bottom of the barrel here.

The next NHL head coach to be fired: Last year Bruce Budreau found a new job in next to no time after the Caps fired him, so this could happen, although unlikely. Simply put it's highly unlikely that a coach will get fired this year with Boudreau's pedigree. Could Mike Yeo be gone in Minnesota? Could Claude Noel in Winnipeg? Would any of them even want to touch the Islanders? Would the Islanders want any of these guys?

Craig MacTavish: I'll just quote from a year and a half ago:

Before he lost the room in Edmonton, he did take them to a Stanley Cup final and probably would have had something special there if Chris Pronger wasn't a petulant little child and demanded a trade to Anaheim. Honestly, I wouldn't be opposed to giving the last player to skate without a helmet a chance with this team. Of the retreads, my top choice.

I still like him of all the retreads available. Some has changed since then, specifically he spent last season coaching the Chicago Wolves in the AHL and they parted ways this summer so he could possibly find an NHL job. He didn't and is currently unattached. He's been away from the NHL bench long enough that he might be hungry to come back and prove himself at a reduced price a la Ted Nolan.

Guy Carbonneau: Former Jack Adams finalist with the Canadiens, then fired the following season. Former CBC analyst. Currently unemployed after leaving his position as President of Hockey Operations for the QMJHL's Chicotoumi Sagueneens. Like MacTavish, he fits the Wang profile for former NHL coach, that he was once successful and has been out of the NHL long enough to maybe want another shot to prove himself at a reduced price.

Jacques Martin: Martin had a long tenure in Ottawa, followed by much shorter spells in Florida and Montreal (and preceded by an '80s stint in St. Louis that few remember). He is noted as a strong defensive coach. He gets a bad rap for his teams underperforming in the playoffs, but that isn't exactly a bridge the Isles have had to cross in a while.

No Chance in Hell

Dale Hunter: No, never, not in a million years. Seriously if Wang thought the fans hate him now, the storm that would come from hiring Islanders Enemy #1 would be huge. Plus he doesn't want to coach in the NHL after the Caps offered him full time and he decided to go back to London to coach the Knights.

Ted Nolan: Ha!

Mike Keenan: Iron Mike is in Iron Retirement for good now (I hope).

Mike Milbury: Just to see how our Mark D reacts...

That's it. If Capuano is fired mid-season, it will be in all likelihood one of Brent Thompson, Scott Pellerin or Doug Weight taking his post at least for the remainder of the season with my money on Thompson. There aren't many strong external candidates accessible right now and the Isles would have to wait until the offseason if they want to bring in one of the up and comers in the AHL head coached and NHL assistant coach ranks, the Ken Gernanders and Mark Frenches of the world.

And that is the main issue, at least for Capuano's near future job security: There isn't anyone in the organization right now who has the experience to step behind the bench. When Capuano was hired to replace Gordon he had been the head coach in Bridgeport for four years. The closest to that is Thompson, who only has one year of head coaching experience above the ECHL. Pellerin, while being a long time AHL assistant, is only in his first year as a head coach. Doug Weight has no experience as head coach, other than filling in for Capuano on two emergency occasions.

But to show my creds, I'll end quoting myself on Gordon a year and a half ago, six days and three losses before his losing streak reached 10 and he was canned:

So basically right now the pickings are slim for a new coach. Between that and the Regier/Ruff or Poile/Trotz relationship Snow wants to build with Gordon, he isn't going anywhere any time soon. If Snow didn't think this could work, he wouldn't have brought Gordon back for his third season in charge.

Gordon is the best bet for the job right now and into the future. It's not his fault he's been given a team that needs Alexei Yashin's contract to clear the salary cap floor. So SGC members, before going for the "someone needs to be canned" platform, take a step back and look at the possibilities... Gordon is the best man available for the job. And if Snow and Wang didn't think he was, he wouldn't be here right now.

I've presented a few options here but I'm sure if Gordon goes, at that point Garth Snow will have a plan in place for his long-term replacement.

Any other candidates you would like considered that I missed? With this relatively weak replacement field, is firing Gordon the right move even if the streak does hit 10?

We'll see if I'm as prophetic this time around.