Just as the New York Islanders were looking like a team that was rising towards contender status, winning their first playoff round since 1993 and having a deep roster led by John Tavares, the outlook is beginning to teeter again.
With a 17-17-8 record and last in the Eastern Conference, the Islanders decided to fire their head coach Jack Capuano on Tuesday. The 50-year-old Rhode Island native was in his seventh season with the team and leaves ranking second in franchise wins and games coached, behind only the legendary Al Arbour.
While assistant Doug Weight is taking over interim head coaching duties, the team said it will begin looking for Capuano’s full-time replacement immediately. Who could that be? Here are some contenders who could be available right away:
Why not start with the interim boss? After all, that’s what Capuano was when Snow hired him for the full-time job in 2010. Weight spent time as an assistant coach on the Islanders bench and is, of course, a respected former player with more than 1,000 points and spent his last three seasons with the Islanders. Weight has also served as an assistant GM to Snow.
“Obviously with the career he’s had in the game of hockey at all different levels, the success he’s had behind the bench as an assistant coach, the work he’s done with me in the front office, he’s well-respected by everyone in that room,” Snow said of Weight on a Tuesday conference call.
Since he’s there already Weight, 45, would be the easiest choice to take on the full-time gig, but without any head coaching experience at all it would be a questionable decision to say the least. And with the new Islanders owners looking to hire a “big name” to take over operations, Snow is in no position to make a questionable coach hire.
The first coach dismissed this season was Gallant in Florida, a firing Don Cherry said was the worst in history. If this were to happen, it would be interesting in that Capuano would be replaced by the coach he beat out of the playoffs last spring.
Like Capuano, Gallant took a young team and a franchise with a long recent history of misery and spun it into gold. The Panthers had their best ever regular season in 2015-16 before just falling short of their first playoff series win since 1996. He was let go due to a disagreement between himself and the Panthers’ new front office on how the roster should be built and organized. With the Panthers front office pushing speed and puck control, Gallant didn’t feel as if there was enough strength in the lineup, especially on the blue line after the Erik Gudbranson trade.
Gallant served as an Islanders assistant coach in the second and third seasons of Snow’s tenure as GM and has also served as a head coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets. In junior, Gallant coached the Saint John Sea Dogs to a Memorial Cup.
This name won’t be known as well as others on this list, except perhaps to Islanders fans. Thompson is the current head coach of the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport, a position Capuano held for parts of four seasons before he was promoted to the NHL club. Thompson, 45, is a retired NHLer who played 121 games in the league and has been a coach at some level since retiring in 2005.
He was an assistant in the AHL with the Peoria Rivermen for four seasons before getting his first head coaching gig with the ECHL’s Alaska Aces, who he led to a championship in 2011. The next season, he was hired as Bridgeport’s head coach for a season, then served on Capuano’s Islanders bench as an assistant for two seasons, before being returned to the AHL team’s lead job again. Thompson has led Bridgeport to the playoffs in two of his three full seasons there, but has never got out of the first round. This season, they’re fifth in the seven-team Atlantic Division with a 19-15-1-1 record.
Hartley is currently the head coach of the Latvian men’s national team, a position former Islanders coach Ted Nolan used as a stepping stone back into the NHL after the team fired him. Hartley certainly has a long history in the NHL and won a Stanley Cup with the Avalanche in 2001, but his more recent track record is less desirable. Between four full seasons with both the Atlanta Thrashers and Calgary Flames, Hartley has made just two playoff appearances and won one series.
Hartley is regarded as a tough coach who can maybe rub some of his players the wrong way. Sean Monahan was asked about that after Hartley was fired from the Flames in 2016 and said:
“Bob’s a passionate guy. He wants the best out of everybody. If he’s hard on you it’s for a good reason. Different people can take things like that different ways.”
What’s interesting about Oates is that although he doesn’t have much success or history as a coach in the NHL, he’s something of a new NHL thinker, focusing on how skill players can train and practice to get more of an edge on offence. He’s even gone so far as to serve as a private skills coach for some NHLers.
However, that move has ruffled some feathers in the NHL and in March of 2016 Oates told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that he presumed his NHL coaching days were over.
For three seasons between 2009 and 2012, Richardson served as an assistant with the Ottawa Senators and was then given the head coaching job of their AHL affiliate, the Binghamton Senators. Richardson coached there for four seasons, making the playoffs in his first two seasons but not getting past Round 1. He mutually parted ways with the team after last season, days after Dave Cameron was fired by the NHL team.
This season, Richardson has coached for Hockey Canada, first at the Deutschland Cup as an assistant to Dave King and then as the head coach for the Spengler Cup-winning entry at the annual tournament in Davos at the end of December.