The hunt for a pair of assistant coaches does not rival the Tavares-Hedman-Duchene decision, or the minor issue of The Future Of The Franchise On Long Island, but I’m still very intrigued by the mystery of who will complete Scott Gordon‘s staff.
Assistant coaches are often forgotten men, at least until their power plays go bad. When losses mount, they get their share of the blame. When a team contends, all they read and hear about is how much of a genius the head coach is. But when you’re coming off a 30th-place season and have a roster with many youngsters, a coaching staff of teachers, communicators and tireless workers is essential.
At the risk of making too big a deal of this, I believe these hirings will say a lot about the leadership of Garth Snow and Scott Gordon – who I’m told are making the hirings in concert. Here’s where I thought the hunt was three weeks ago. Here’s what I know now. Be warned: all I know is who is not getting the job.
It doesn’t appear that Rob Murray – Gordon’s right hand man in Providence and now the head coach of the AHL B’s – is joining his friend on Long Island. That move never made sense. Why would Murray give up a head coaching job in the AHL to be known as “Gordo’s guy” here?
No doubt Murray watched the ascension of Dan Bylsma from AHL assistant to AHL head coach to Stanley Cup Final coach of Crosby and Malkin in under two years. (I will have more on the story of Bylsma, a one-year Islanders assistant, on a slow news day down the road). Murray was very wise to stay exactly where he is.
Jack Capuano is not on the short list at this point. Looks like he’ll stay as head coach in Bridgeport, where he has been hailed for his work with several young players.
Eric Cairns has received so many compliments by Islanders prospects, potential draft picks and his own colleagues that it’s tough to picture the big man leaving his position as a scout and talent developer. Cairns seems to have found his niche, has an important job and should stay there.
A text to the Islanders for an update on the status of assistant coach John Chabot was returned with a note: “A decision has yet to be made on John.” Murray staying in Providence means Chabot is still in the running.
The Islanders whispered to Greg Logan a month ago that they were interested in hiring a coach with experience as a defenseman and with ties to the Islanders. I assume they told Greg this because they had someone in mind. Maybe it fell through, maybe it didn’t.
I still can’t see Ken Morrow coming over full-time from Kansas City. I’ve not heard anything about Dave Lewis coming in for an interview, which is a shame if true. Maybe it will be Dean Chynoweth, who has been outstanding as GM and head coach with Swift Current of the Western Hockey League.
The Toronto Marlies just let go of their head coach: two-time Islanders Cup-winner Greg Gilbert, a former head coach in Calgary. They also set free Gilbert aide Jim Hughes, a Long Island man who has been an assistant focused on defense over the last decade with the Bruins, in college, the minors and at the U.S. development program.
Something to watch: the Islanders need at least one more strong presence on that bench, someone to play the good cop/bad cop role with Gordon, or reverse. Some head coaches are gun-shy about adding a big personality because they’re insecure about hiring potentially their own successor.
The Islanders have had several fine assistant coaches just in this decade. Jacques Laperriere, known as a master teacher of defensemen, was on Peter Laviolette’s staff for the turnaround. Peter also had Greg Cronin, a brilliant motivator and strategist. It’s no surprise Cronin went to Northeastern and turned a lame program into an NCAA tournament team in record time.
In his first season, Steve Stirling had the luxury of picking the brain of Jeff Jackson, the legendary college coach who has navigated Notre Dame as a powerhouse. In his second season, Stirling hired Bylsma, Capuano and Brad Shaw.
Stirling’s always been an easy target because he was a gentleman and didn’t have good body language on TV after the opposing team scored. Anyone with their eyes open during Stirling’s year with Bylsma, Capuano and Shaw knows the real reasons for their failure. Mike Milbury lost Kenny Jonsson, Adrian Aucoin and Roman Hamrlik in their primes and replaced them with Alexei Zhitnik, uh, Brad Lukowich, and…well, that was it. Amazing how good coaches can go so bad. Amazing how smart Bylsma’s gotten in the last few months. (Even Dan has a sense of humor about it).
What will Gordon do? We should know by the end of the month. Assistant coaches don’t have to be headline-makers, but here’s hoping these important hirings are not met with a shrug.