After finally breaking through to the second-round of the playoffs in 2015-16, following six consecutive first-round postseason defeats, it was expected that the New York Islanders might be ready to take yet another step in their progression. After all, the team returned its roster nearly intact and boasts a legitimate franchise player in John Tavares. Though it’s early, the Islanders are off to a disappointing 3 – 5 – 0 record and currently reside in a last place tie with Carolina. This combined with other factors has led Brandon Cohen of Today’s Slapshot to conclude that Jack Capuano has surpassed his expiration date as head coach of the Islanders.
In addition to the slow start to the 2016-17 campaign, Cohen points out that despite moving on to the second round last season and winning game one against Tampa Bay, the Islanders “crumbled” when it mattered most and turned in a disappointing effort in the series-clinching 4 – 0 loss to the Lightning in game five. Cohen also notes that a year earlier, with a chance to advance with a game seven win over Washington in the first round, the Islanders mustered just 11 total shots on goal in a performance that can best be described as “flat.”
Capuano was elevated to head coach early on in the 2010-11 campaign and is in his seventh season with more than 450 games running the Islanders bench. He’s guided the team to three playoff appearances and back-to-back 100-point seasons but as noted earlier, just a single playoff series win. It’s rare for a coach who has achieved little postseason success to be allowed that much time but GM Garth Snow has obviously exercised patience when it comes to Capuano.
The Islanders handling of their goaltending situation has elicited criticism in the last couple of days. The team has carried three goaltenders for much of the last couple of seasons due in large part to the fact Jean-Francois Berube is not waivers-exempt and would almost certainly be claimed if exposed. Because of this, it’s been hard to find appropriate practice time to keep the team’s goalies sharp. Of course some of the blame for this falls on Snow for his inability or unwillingness to move one of his tenders to clear the logjam while obtaining some value in return. But Capuano shoulders some of the responsibility as it is on him to schedulea nd plan practices.
Capuano has also found it difficult working offseason additions Jason Chimera and Andrew Ladd into the lineup. The duo has accounted for just four points, all assists, while taking up $7.75MM in cap space this year. Over the last six years, Ladd has averaged 0.33 goals-per-game and has tallied at least 23 markers in each of the last five full seasons he has played. Yet he has just one helper to date through eight games even though he has had John Tavares and Josh Bailey as linemates 63% of the time, according to the website Left Wing Lock.
Again, you could find fault with Snow for handing out those free agent deals but Ladd has been a steady producer for a long time and the onus is on Capuano to find a way to help jump start the veteran winger’s game.
Capuano has drawn praise for focusing on the development of young players. In addition to Tavares, Kyle Okposo has developed into a solid power forward who has tallied at least 60 points two of the last three seasons. Frans Nielsen turned into one of the game’s best two-way centers, mostly under Capuano’s tutelage. Meanwhile, Travis Hamonic and Calvin de Haan have grown into solid top-four defenders.
Of course there have also been several high draft picks who have yet to reach their potential. Josh Bailey was selected 9th overall in 2008 but has yet to score more than 16 goals or 41 points in any season. Ryan Strome had a 50-point campaign as a 21-year-old sophomore but his production tailed off tremendously in 2015-16, scoring just seven goals and 28 points last season.
As with any coach, there have been plenty of ups-and-downs for the Islanders under Capuano. But while Snow has demonstrated plenty of patience to date with his head coach, the time to make a change behind the bench might be drawing near if the Islanders can’t shake off the early season doldrums.