I was in the Islanders job just a little over a year when on Dec. 7, 1988 team PR director Greg Bouris walked into my office and closed the door.
"Looks like Terry's out and Al's in," Greg told me.
Honestly, it took me a bit to register what the heck he was talking about. I had worked with Islanders coach Terry Simpson for 12 months and the only time he wasn't being anonymous, he was being grumpy. Terry was such a mad scientist, stuck in his charts and video and working hard at being boring and trying to pretend he wasn't really on Long Island, he never even tried to learn my name or anyone else's.
Then again, the Al part of the equation had me fooled. "Al who"? I asked Greg, today Donald Fehr's PR guy at the almighty MLBPA.
"You know," he said, "the guy with the glasses who won four Stanley Cups here a few years ago."
I thought of Terry Simpson this week with the news of Todd McLellan getting the Sharks job, and not just because Todd was drafted by the Islanders in the fifth round in 1986 and played 5 games for Terry on the Island in '87-88. The Simpson experiment with the Islanders makes me wonder if McLellan is in a much better position to succeed in the NHL than Terry Simpson, or this year's junior hockey sensation turned NHL head coach, Peter DeBoer of the Panthers.
This story by WHL broadcaster Regan Bartel has some terrific insight into McLellan's determination to improve at just about every level of his life, including a battle of the personal bulge he waged as a junior coach. Just as impressive, Todd took his coaching career one step at a time - Canadian juniors, AHL head coach (a championship with Houston), NHL assistant coach (a Cup with the Red Wings). He may not have NHL head coaching experience, but McLellan has answered every question up until now.
Peter DeBoer comes directly to South Florida of the NHL after 13 years as a highly successful coach in the Ontario Hockey League. Terry Simpson came directly to Long Island of the NHL after 11 years as a highly successful coach in the Western Hockey League.
We've heard Peter is a genius. We've heard he can motivate, teach and scheme like crazy. Perhaps he's a perfect fit with the talented but still very young Panthers, because right now all we know for sure is that DeBoer is an amazing coach of teenagers. I hope it works out. Some of those kids on Florida seem a little bratty, but they could be a blast to watch if Peter helps them get their act together.
DeBoer has two advantages on Simpson. Terry coached a team that still had Mike Bossy, Bryan Tottier and Denis Potvin on it. He also replaced Al Arbour. DeBoer doesn't have that problem, and that's a good problem not to have.