Now that Doug Weight has been
fired “relieved” of head coaching duties, who will be the next New York Islanders head coach?
For starters, unlike the last eight years, the Islanders coach will not be a former interim/assistant man. Once Garth Snow gave Weight the non-interim title, Weight assembled quite the staff of assistants to go with promoted associate coach Greg Conin. Scott Gomez. Kelly Buchberger. Luke Richardson. You can bet those guys aren’t going to be named head coach — although Buchberger and particularly Richardson have been seen as NHL head coaching candidates in the past.
No official word from the #Isles ahead of the Lamoriello conference call, but it appears that Doug Weight's entire coaching staff has also been let go. Not a surprise given the earlier announcements.— Arthur Staple (@StapeAthletic) June 5, 2018
Smart money is on General Manager Lou Lamoriello bringing in his own man from outside. Who he selects will ultimately tell us a lot about how much new thinking the 75-year-old is bringing to his third stint as an NHL general manager.
Some possibilities? Here are some ideas, informed strictly by what’s out there, what’s been talked about before Tuesday’s news hit, and what will get you, the reader, debating and raving:
The Up and Comers
This is by no means a slam dunk, but plug Keefe, a former NHL forward, into the “progressive thinking” camp. He is considered forward-thinking, and he’s had great success developing players and winning at the AHL level with the Toronto Marlies. (He’s also had tons of resources and outstanding young and veteran players with which to succeed at that level.)
And of course, Lamoriello would know Keefe’s work well, having just come from the Maple Leafs.
Opportunities are fleeting in the NHL — just ask Weight -- and it’s foolish to think Mike Babcock is ready to step away from the Leafs anytime soon. So Keefe is likely to jump at an NHL opportunity before too long.
Sticking with the Leafs organization, DJ Smith is also well regarded and seen as an up-and-comer. Smith is known for his OHL Calder Cup championship behind Oshawa’s bench — defeating Connor McDavid and Erie — but he garners high praise from Babcock, who wouldn’t stand in his way of a head gig:
“I always look when I’m hiring for serial winners: Wherever they’ve gone, they’ve won,” Babcock said, in that Sportsnet article on Smith.
You know how the Islanders defensive structure and discipline completely stunk under Weight? Todd Reirden would fix that.
And the Capitals associate coach is in an interesting spot. He was promoted from the AHL to Barry Trotz’s staff and then later from assistant to associate in part because, as with Smith and Keefe, he was seen as an heir apparent to an NHL job. But Trotz has been with the Capitals for a while, with repeated playoff stalls until this season, where the Caps as of today are one win away from the Stanley Cup.
Trotz is reportedly on an expiring contract, with everyone previously expecting Reardon to take over. Their Cup run complicates things.
If a Cup victory means Reirden means Trotz stays, then would he ask to get a shot elsewhere? Which brings us to...
Even if the Capitals win, maybe the team and Trotz agree to part ways on top? He’s long been seen as a successful coach with the Predators — where he did a lot with a little — and the Capitals but couldn’t get either team past the second round. Until this year.
Still, if those two parties say the relationship has been great but it’s time for a fresh start, then Trotz might be ready for a new challenge. And an expiring contract would mean no barrier to him joining an in-division rival.
Robinson is still often cited as an ideal coaching candidate because of his previous stints with the Kings and Devils, where he won a Cup. However, last time he was in the running for jobs, word was he didn’t want to relocate after ending a five-year association with the San Jose Sharks.
Situations change, and he and Lamoriello have a succesful history. You never know.
Would Stevens even want this? Ever since Lamoriello was hired by the Islanders, hockey media put Stevens’ name in the mix as potentially helping out the Islanders defense.
But he left his last stint as an assistant in Minnesota, where he was otherwise quite happy (at least according to his public statements), because he didn’t want to live and travel so far from family. Being in New York might change that, and maybe another year’s time — plus the opportunity to work with Lamoriello again — has altered the situation.
Consider him a candidate for the bench one way or another.
Ha! Ha. Notice a theme here? All of these candidates are known for defensive acumen, although literally any coaching candidate would look like a defensive savior relative to how the Islanders played last season.
Hitchcock, who had previously said his final year with the Blues would be his final season of head coaching, then went on to a one-year coaching return with the Stars before again saying that was it. He remains with the Stars in an advisory capacity and that sounds like a legit desire.
So doubt he returns to coaching. But the lure of the competition for some of these guys never dies...
Still, we mention him here only because he’s been brought up like every single time someone has been upset with Islanders coaching over the last decade.
Quenneville is staying in Chicago. That’s the word. But their core is starting to age, the team is on a downward trend, they’ve messed with his staff multiple times there, and owner Rocky Wirtz literally just said the other day that if they get off to a bad start next season there will be changes.
For a guy who guided them to three Stanley Cups, maybe he wants a little more sway than that? And you know, the league has a way of bending if Lou wants something.
Like Hitchcock, Quenneville was brought up -- and in this case even approached — for Islanders consideration way back in 2008. But he stayed in his advisory role in Chicago, where he likely knew he was just a few losses away from taking over the bench of a team on the rise.
Again, a guy who can do the defense. He parted ways with the Coyotes after a long association and is said to be waiting for the ideal opportunity. Is it on Long Island?
Hard to see this happening, as Sutter has previously enjoyed life in Alberta or, at minimum, the chance to at least coach a contender in the same time zone.
Lou previously did have Darryl’s brother (and former Islanders player) Brent as his head coach in New Jersey once upon a time...
[Updated] Not Old But Not New
I debated whether to include these two in the original post and, with the dust settled I’ve decided it’s being too cute to exclude them:
His reputation really plummeted after the peak of his first year in which he won the Cup with the Penguins, and his attempt to help the Sabres reclamation project fizzled. That’s probably being unfair — the Penguins lacked an adequate bottom six for much of his time there, and the Sabres have continued to be terrible — though and he’s still a name that’s thrown out there for coach openings.
As much as Islanders fans complained about Jack Capuano and (later) Doug Weight, Rangers fans complained about very similar flaws with Vigneault. Personally, I think he’s a better coach than that, but his flaws are real — and familiar — too. Can overlook good young players, can go to the well too long on bad defensive pairings, etc. You’ve heard these issues before.
Still, maybe he’s learned something after reflection, and perhaps he’s the kind of guy Lamoriello is looking for.
Stay tuned. Lou moves fast.