When Scott Gordon’s hiring was official, I immediately called two American Hockey League head coaches not named Jack Capuano. I gave both of them every opportunity to anonymously bitch about the hiring – to wonder why Gordon is getting the chance in the NHL they haven’t, to point out that his Providence Bruins won 55 games last season because they had the most talent in the league by far. They didn’t take the bait.
“I don’t know why Scott wasn’t in the mix for the other (NHL) jobs this summer. Anyone who follows the ‘A’ will tell you he’s been the best coach in our league and deserved a shot.”
I asked the other coach if the P-Bruins were the most skilled team in the American League last season. “Not even close. Definitely not top-5 and maybe not even top-10. Don’t get me wrong, they have some players, but Scott got more out of them than anyone could have expected.”
Gushing stories on AHL coaches, like the lovely one on Gordon from the Providence Journal last season, are no big whoop. You can find stories boasting about the work ethic of coaching prospects all over the internet. There’s nothing like references from the coaches on the other bench.
“His teams were the most prepared in the league, the best-conditioned and the hardest-working,” said one of the AHL coaches. “With his focus on defense, he took a pretty good team to 55 wins. Scott showed me that I still have more to learn.”
Scott Gordon and Paul Maurice were hands-down the best available candidates for this job. My concerns for Gordon all have to do with his lack of NHL experience, which is why I gave a slight edge to Maurice. The Islanders have young people in the top jobs – Garth Snow in the GM’s chair, Ryan Jankowski running the draft. Nothing wrong with that, but I thought the franchise could use someone that might still be young, but has been there and done that.
Also, while we talk a lot about the Islanders’ youth movement, let’s not lose sight of the fact this is a team with plenty of veterans who define grizzled – Bill Guerin, Mike Sillinger, Doug Weight, Brendan Witt, Richard Park. Sometimes first-year NHL coaches lean on motivational tricks that may have worked in the AHL, but are met with shrugs (or worse) in the big leagues. I’ve seen the backlash; it’s ugly. Gordon really needs to resist the temptation to go there.
Forgive me as I do my impersonation of ESPN and The Post and share a few things I wrote in the last month, followed by some reaction.
July 6: “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.”
To say the Islanders are better off for it would be an understatement. Unlike his last break from the game, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ted gets another shot at the NHL in the next 12 months. I hope so.
July 20: “In my view, the man best suited for the opportunity is Paul Maurice. I’m aware Maurice may not be the most exhilarating choice, but the Islanders do not need exhilarating. They've done that.”
A few last thoughts on Maurice, my first choice, leading to some derisive feedback because of his career won-lost record and lack of hysterical arm-waving behind the bench.
Amazing to me that his Toronto experience is so over-analyzed. Hmm, let’s see: what do we now know about his franchise player at the Leafs. Oh yeah, that he waffles like a Green Bay quarterback on whether or not to play hockey for ten million dollars a year. Geez, can’t believe Maurice couldn’t make that work!
But the final word is on Maurice’s integrity. A few days ago, a hockey scribe got Maurice on his cell phone. The coach made it clear he wanted to respect the process but would talk in detail when it was over. Maurice did say one thing, however. “I’ve seen some stories from people making it sound like this is a job anyone with experience would not want. This is a big opportunity. There are plenty of reasons to go after that job.”
July 27: “To this former PR flak, an August 12 press conference looks good: Yankees in Minnesota, Mets in Washington, Favre’s destination already known. I would think a new Islanders coach would fill most of Newsday’s backpage the following day – big-name hire or not.”
Okay, so technically the press conference is tomorrow, but the Islanders did announce the decision on August 12. Kill me for recommending Maurice all you want, but do I get any credit for at least getting the date right more than two weeks ago?