The draft is over. UFA work is also done, proving the Islanders might finally be serious about building from within (maybe they were just waiting for me to leave).
That’s it until the opening of camp, right?
It shouldn’t be.
Somehow lost in the shuffle – maybe everyone is just living in denial – is the matter of the Islanders and their head coach, Ted Nolan. When we last left off, the season ended miserably, fingers were being pointed in all directions, and the whole thing got so awkward that at my last Islanders Open House in April, these were the only questions on every fan’s mind:
Why are the Islanders letting Ted enter the final season of his contract without an extension?
Is Ted on board with the team’s plan to build around young players?
Do Ted and Garth like each other?
I’m sorry, but has anything changed with this subject in the last two months? Seems in the haze of Bailey and Petrov, Streit and Weight, everyone forgot about it. That is, until it came up in an interview I did on Friday night on XM Radio. I touched on the break in trust between Ted and the Islanders, and I will expound on it here.
If the Islanders are truly committed to getting it right, then they have one more big decision to make this summer.
Is Ted Nolan their coach for the long haul? Is Ted the Islanders’ Barry Trotz, their Lindy Ruff – the man who will stay positive and consistent in his approach to developing the kids every stumble and step of the way? Do they feel they can count on Ted like – gasp – the Rangers rely on Tom Renney?
Right now, there isn’t much of a relationship between Ted and Islanders management. Despite Ted’s success as a coach in junior, I don’t believe the Islanders are confident he really buys into the youth movement.
The other tall hurdle is the immense damage from last season. From March 1 on, when the ship was sinking, awkward moments came daily. You didn't have to be the PR director of the team to see the stains.
There was Ted’s repeated use of the phrase, “You work with what you got,” referring to his own lineup. I saw an Islanders interim head coach named Bill Stewart say that once and he hasn’t sniffed the National Hockey League since. I was amazed Ted said it, and was equally amazed he got away with it.
There was Ted ignoring policy and telling Greg Logan he was entering the last year of his contract and there were no discussions about an extension.
There was the weekend I was visiting family over Easter and got a slew of calls with the same exasperated message: “Ted just said he’s playing Joey Mac because Garth told him to.” The coach could have said, “Garth and I talked about it and decided we wanted to see what Joey’s got.” But he went out of his way not to be diplomatic. Why? And what kind of message does that send to Joey McDonald?
There were damaging lapses in relationships with key players. There was a real stunner no one seemed to pick up on: after the Islanders struggled for weeks and were eliminated from the postseason, only then did the team implement a defensive system to minimize scoring chances. An act of defiance? I hope not. It may have cost the Islanders the first overall pick.
After each Open House this offseason, I’ve heard from too many Islanders fans who approached the always-accessible Ted with questions about his team, only to have their jaws drop when Ted gave some version of “Depends on what they decide to do,” “It’s up to them” and worse.
They, they, they. Not we. Shame on everyone.
The Islanders were the only team willing to give Ted another shot in the NHL. They were proud of it, and Ted would go out of his way in his first season to show his appreciation. Why did it come to this between Ted Nolan and the Islanders?
Ted Nolan is not 100% at fault here. Not even close. For the breakdown to get to this point, there is plenty of blame to go around.
I don’t care about the committee rules. If the GM thinks at least one of the four coaches should be a former defenseman to mentor Campoli, Gervais and the kids - those are my thoughts, I should make clear - the GM should insist on it. When Garth is asked by “Mike and the Mad Dog” if Ted starting Dubielewicz raised an eyebrow, he needs to resist his inner New England wise-ass and not say, “One eyebrow or two”? If you’re going to talk about how you’re a committee, you need to act like a team. I also don’t want to make this about Ted’s handling of Jeff Tambellini. That’s an insult to both of them. If Jeff can play in this league, he’ll prove it on his own.
Beyond all the garbage, there is the essential issue of whether the Islanders believe Ted wants to coach this team in a rebuild, is the best man to coach this team and is a coach Garth Snow can see himself working with side-by-side for the next decade. Darcy Regier has it with Ruff, David Poile with Trotz. Garth will be the GM of this team for at least ten years. He needs to have a coach he trusts implicitly. Long Island could use a mainstay behind the home team bench.
The Islanders have two options: work through the issues and commit completely to Ted Nolan, or shake hands and say goodbye. More than themselves or even their fan base, they owe that to Ted.