Despite a first-round loss in the final playoff year at Nassau Coliseum, the seven-game series moved New York Islanders coach Jack Capuano further up an odd list that succinctly depicts the yin and yang of the franchise's history:
Most all-time playoff wins by Islander coaches
- Al Arbour - 123
- Terry Simpson - 9
- Jack Capuano - 5
- Peter Laviolette - 4
- Ted Nolan - 1
- Steve Stirling - 1
That list was updated with each win this spring by longtime stat keeper and "The Skinny" creator Eric Hornick, who also noted another franchise-defining factoid:
Capuano is only the 4th Isles coach to lead at least two Islander teams to the playoffs, joining Al Arbour, Terry Simpson, and Peter Laviolette.
While the root causes of this scarcity are pretty clear, seeing it captured that way is still striking. People forget the Islanders actually made the playoffs more often than not between 2002-07, but aside from the seven-game series with the Leafs, all of Laviolette, Nolan and Stirling suffered quick five-game defeats.
To that end, Hornick outlined another list that is almost jaw-dropping:
Most playoff games coached with the Islanders
- Al Arbour - 209
- Terry Simpson - 20
- Jack Capuano - 13
- Peter Laviolette - 12
- Steve Stirling - 5
- Ted Nolan - 5
And of course, the most damning fact of all and the one that is most likely to one day end Capuano's tenure:
Most playoff series wins
- Al Arbour - 29
- Terry Simpson - 1
Whatever one thinks of Capuano -- there is a contingent of fans who find him at worst the wrong coach, at best a coach who needs to improve and/or give up bad lineup habits for the team to move forward -- the fact he is so high on most of these lists (also: second in all-time regular season games), is another reflection of the dark post-Arbour years.
Simpson won one seven-game series -- the famous Easter Epic over the Capitals -- lost another, and then lost a six-game series to the Cinderella 1988 Devils. Laviolette lost the seven-game series to the Leafs, and was fired by Mike Milbury after a five-game loss to Ottawa the following year.
(For those too young to recall, Simpson replaced Arbour after his first retirement, but Arbour returned after two and a half seasons, rejoining a fading squad, and producing one more fine run in 1993.)
Anyway, it's crazy that just via two playoff series losses, Capuano pulls ahead of Laviolette in all-time playoff games won with the Isles. And it's crazy that this performance still leaves him four wins shy (and one playoff series win shy) of tying Simpson, who was fired mid-season in 1988-89 after the team ostensibly revolted and quit on him.
Laviolette is still revered by many Isles fans, and he went on to considerable success with at least two more NHL franchises (his Nashville results are still in the discovery phase).
As for Simpson, I've yet to meet a single fan who fondly recalls his part in the 1986-88 era , though he had the unfair task of replacing a legend.
Expectations Raised, the Pressure is Now On
All across the league, the ultimate determining factor on how long coaches of playoff-caliber teams last is playoff series wins. It's not always fair (Todd McLellan could tell some stories, so could current Capitals coach Barry Trotz from his Nashville days), but it's pretty straightforward.
Whether rebuild or playoff contender, it's rare for coaches to be in one place this long. (Trotz, of course, is one of the exceptions.) Capuano is unique in that he survived a rebuild long enough to tell about it.
Though he has the support of players and particularly his general manager, in order to extend his impressively long tenure he will need to start winning playoff series, likely beginning next year. (Another aspect aside from managerial support is the player dynamic. Players who support their coach one day can start to have doubts when they don't reach "the next level" under someone. But that's a topic for the future.)
Had he achieved more success this spring, Capuano might have won over some of his critics, who at this point do not include many (if any) on the Isles roster. Given the trust in him from general manager Garth Snow, the injuries to half of the Isles blueline, and the fact the Isles improved in 2014-15 and made two playoffs in the last three seasons, Capuano is a certainty to get more opportunities to climb up these all-time Isles coaching lists.
If his squad performs well, he'll rocket up those lists and leave distance between him and the rest of the non-Arbour group. If not, he'll become another interesting footnote.
The noise and media attention to some of his pet lineup decisions will get louder, people will add the next failing to the poor showing in this season's Game 7, and eventually he will be the first Islanders coach in decades to lose his job for failing with a good roster, rather than for being a victim of a spiral of poor owners and a desperate general manager.
2015-16 promises more intrigue to come.