Since the beginning of the hiring process – actually, to be completely honest: way before then – I have felt Paul Maurice was the perfect coach for this Islanders era. His NHL experience, his teaching ability and his communication skills with young and old hockey players, team staff, the media and the fans make Paul an ideal pick. After Maurice maintained his dignity through two ludicrous seasons in Toronto, I believed the Islanders would be extremely fortunate to have this good man and exceptional talent available just when they needed someone like him.
This opinion has not changed.
I don’t know the identity of the next Islanders coach. All of us now know the finalists – Maurice, Bob Hartley and Scott Gordon. The biggest story of this search is no longer the man named coach, but the man making the selection. Know this, Islanders fans - this will be 100% Garth Snow’s choice as head coach. That’s because this is now 100% Garth Snow’s roster and coaching staff.
In my view, he cannot go wrong with two of his finalists. Scott Gordon brings to the table many of Maurice’s best attributes. What he lacks in NHL experience – if he gets the gig, there will be a significant learning curve in dealing with everyone from Brendan Witt and Mike Comrie to bloggers at games and fans at Open Houses – Gordon does have one major advantage: a practiced dedication to defense. Associates of Gordon say he is obsessive about a defense-first attitude in his teams. With Rick DiPietro and a better-than-billed top 7 on D, Gordon’s commitment to goals-against makes him a very worthy candidate for the Islanders’ job.
Gordon’s history of getting the most out of his lineups with stingy-dirty team defense means Islanders scouts probably won’t have to bother looking at kids likely to go in the first five picks of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. On the other hand, the prospects Ryan Jankowski and Co. have already drafted would continue a proper education when they arrive on Long Island.
Oh yeah, and Gordon – an ex-goalie who loves his goalies – would also be DiPietro’s best chance for an annual GAA in the very low 2s and nomination for the Vezina.
One feels like a major hump saying that a head coach who’s won a Stanley Cup is not the right man, but that’s the way I honestly feel about Bob Hartley and this job. Hartley is a very good coach whose rep has taken some ridiculously unfair hits from his Atlanta experience, including a shameful cheapshot from a Calgary columnist without a clue or hint of dignity. It is simply that, knowing what I think I know about the kind of coach needed in this market, with this team and in these times, Hartley is not a fit.
If Hartley does not get the job, I would advise he spend one season as a top consultant and roving instructor with an NHL team – why not with his friend Snow at the Islanders? – and wait for the inevitable opening when a talented team needs a firmer hand that comes equipped with a Cup ring.
And if Hartley does become head coach, Garth rarely listened to me before so I wouldn’t expect him to start now. It would only cement the notion that this is Snow’s decision, Snow’s team.