One day before their now fairly large game against the Maple Leafs in Toronto, Islanders interim coach Doug Weight called into the belly of the beast, a.k.a. Sportsnet Radio’s Hockey Central at Noon, to talk about his first few games on the job and what the transition has been like for him.
Weight was jokey (mainly with co-host, former NHLer Colby Armstrong) and introspective when asked about his first steps as a head coach by host Darren Millard. As he has since he took over the team, Weight was refreshingly open about his approach to running the bench, both in terms of strategy and personal interactions.
You can listen to the whole interview here but I’ve (painstakingly) transcribed some of the more interesting bits below.
After goofing around about playing against Armstrong and his prominent schnoz, Millard asks Weight about his “zeal” for matching lines:
I just had a lot of notes I’ve taken over the course of four or five years. I’ve learned from some really good people. But I had a lot of ideas myself. And I won’t lie to you - I’m not enamored with pulling guys off the ice or needing your match-ups. You want to exude confidence to all those lines and I think Colby you’ll agree when you can feel a coach doesn’t want you out. I don’t want that feeling for guys. I want it to become a good flow. But I definitely have my opinions about who I want to play against each other.
I’m not a huge analytics-crazed guy. That’s for sure. But some of these teams you play over the course of four or five seasons, you have 17-18 games where you have some results come into play as well. So I’ll do a lot of that.
You don’t want to translate all that to the players. All the work you do, all the film you do. You want to keep them light and prepared. But as far as my work, I do a lot of it in the match-ups. I believe in it and I think it gives guys almost that goal, that challenge of being against certain players as well. You talk about that with the lines prior to the game so that’s very astute of you picking up on that.
I agree with Weight. That is quite an astute observation by Millard because I hadn’t noticed a lot of line matching going on. That’s probably because Weight’s predecessor Jack Capuano infamously didn’t play match-ups at all, which is why the Islanders’ fourth line got more ice time over the last two seasons than the fourth lines of some entire divisions combined.
(Now that I know Weight is trying to match lines, I’m even more sad that Frans Nielsen isn’t an Islander any more. I wonder if he would have gotten more Selke Trophy attention had he been put in more focused situations.)
As for the analytics, hockey’s buzziest buzzword, Weight has said before that he’s interested in the numbers, but not slavishly devoted to them and he basically reiterates that. That’s probably a good spot for anybody to be in, but here it seems like he’s trying to play percentages, almost like a manager uses his pitchers. Might be fun to see how that progresses.
Finally, Weight wants them prepared for the opposition but not thinking too much in crunch time, I guess. That again seems to be diverging from Capuano, who may have been doing some over-coaching or inundating players with too much info.
Millard then asks if Doug Weight the player would enjoy playing for Doug Weight the coach. Weight says he would, and leans on simply being himself (which includes joking about the size of his ego). He also mentions tailoring his coaching to the needs of different players.
I think the most important thing is the transparency and the honesty. I try to - no matter who speak to during the game or what I’m saying - I’ll always meet with those players after the game or the next morning for five minutes or three minutes, show them the clip I was talking to them about, discuss it, let them discuss it, and tell me what they were thinking and maybe I’ll be wrong.
I think that when you can be honest with them and not have a huge ego - which, I can hide because of course I do - I think you just want to have the respect of those players. That they know you’re in it for them. It’s about them.
We have hard practices. I expect you to work. I want you to be jovial and come to the rink and enjoy it.
You’ve go to demand a lot, tell them when they’re doing good things and tell them when they’re doing bad. And you have to do it to all your players. You can’t coach everybody the same, certainly. When people say that, I laugh. John Tavares is going to have more opportunities than other players in the offensive zone, more mistakes he’ll make that he’s going to go back on the ice. But he’s definitely gonna hear about them in front of his teammates and hopefully respect my decisions in certain areas and we’ll move past it.
I might be out of line, but’s hard not to read (or better still listen) to this and not think of it as a rebuke of Capuano’s communication with the players. Although he had a reputation as a player’s coach and was seemingly liked by all of his charges, it’s possible that the angles from which Capuano chose to instruct his players might have been detrimental to some while still benefiting others.
When talking about coaches that have influenced him - from Joel Quenneville to Glen Sather to Ron Low - Weight also threw in that players, “Need to play. Not have you harpin’ on them.” He did also say that while he tries to keep things light, he will “bark down” with a player if the situation calls for it.
Ever since he took over, Weight has maintained that he had no specific designs on being a head coach, so he’s evaluating the experience as much as the team is (and we are) evaluating him. At the end of the interview, he says he’s enjoying it more, calling it “exhilarating.” But still has his eyes on the bigger picture.
I’m in it with both feet and I’m really enjoying it. I want what’s best for this organization.
We have a lot of people to prove wrong and rightfully so. I have no ill will towards that because we haven’t done anything. But I believe in Garth, the old ownership, the new ownership and where we’re going and we’ve got some good people here.
Weight only played for the Islanders for three seasons, two of which were marred by injury. But after five years as an assistant coach and assistant GM and now a dozen games as a head coach, he’s a blue-and-orange-bleeding Islander now.