Gerard Gallant and Marc Crawford will be on Long Island early this week, wrapping up the first round of interviews. I’m told the process will move along very quickly during the second and final round. My read: there could be just two finalists, with a clear-cut No. 1 whose job it is to lose followed by a backup candidate the Islanders would be just as happy to be their coach.
While Gallant is likely not a frontrunner heading into his meeting with Garth Snow, he without a doubt deserves the opportunity to make his case for the job. Gerard is a good hockey man who was a true professional under some very trying circumstances as an assistant coach last season. I’ve seen some message-board material that pins the Islanders’ power play woes last season squarely on Gallant and therefore this should eliminate him from contention. Respectfully, this should be labeled in the category of fiction.
I believe Crawford is a major longshot. He’s a fascinating case because it wasn’t too long ago that he was considered hands-down the brightest and most exciting coaching prospect in the game. Crawford may have made a mistake jumping right back into the LA job just as Dean Lombardi was retooling the Kings roster. A year away to re-invent himself might do him some good.
John Tortorella could be faced with a similar career decision should he be a finalist for the Islanders job. Unlike candidates such as Paul Maurice, Bob Hartley, Mike Sullivan and Scott Gordon, a contract negotiation with Tortorella would likely be a more layered process. Like Crawford was years ago, Tortorella is a star and his earning power may never be stronger.
I wrote the following two weeks ago as I listed what the Islanders should be looking for in their next head coach:
“Someone who won’t be thinking about where his next NHL job is going to be. Someone who won’t view the Islanders as if they’re a mid-major like Vanderbilt on the way to Tennessee.”
The candidate I was specifically thinking of was Joel Quenneville. Coach Q has always been considered one of the classiest men in the game. I’m glad he had the class to withdraw his name from consideration before he went down a road that would not have benefitted him or the Islanders.
A John Tortorella story: It’s the 2004 Stanley Cup Playoffs and the Lightning fire a shot before their first round series with the Islanders even begins. Lightning management has boxed the Islanders out of their chosen hotel in Tampa Bay for games 1 and 2. Sniping on both sides in the media begins, and when the Islanders – a big underdog – earn a split in the two games it looks like the series is going to be a nasty one.
When the Lightning arrive on Long Island, they learn that payback is a bitch. Among other things, it’s about 110 degrees in the visiting team locker room at the Coliseum. They also find their room not stocked with many of the usual amenities.
I’m in the Coliseum hallway talking to my PR colleague with the Lightning. A very sweaty John Tortorella approaches. “This (crap) has to stop,” the Tampa Bay head coach says. “Any chance Mike Milbury is around? Can you see if he’ll talk to me so we can settle this like gentlemen”?
I go to Mike’s office and tell him Tortorella comes in peace and wants a truce. The Islanders GM is impressed. “Walk him down here.”
Tortorella pleads, “This is getting stupid, Mike. You’re a coach at heart, like me. C’mon, for everyone’s sake let’s put this behind us and act like pros.” Tortorella apologizes for any nonsense that went down in Tampa Bay.
Milbury apologizes as well, the two shake hands and within minutes the Lightning room is cooled. When I see Mike later he says, “That was impressive. He’s going to be a great coach in this league.”
It would be a stretch to call Tortorella’s move genius, just because his Lightning won the next three games to clinch the series and went on to win the Stanley Cup. But I was blown away by the coach’s take-charge attitude. Most coaches in this game would never march into the office of an opposing GM. Time will tell if he and the Islanders are a fit. What I do know is the next team that gets him will be very fortunate.
Over the last two years the Islanders have invited veteran free agents to training camp, Richard Park the biggest success story. There will always be invitations to junior players the Islanders scouts would like to get another look at. But with the team's commitment to youth, one would have to assume that in September you will not see older invitees as Park, Mike Dunham and Bryan Berard were.
What there will be at camp is a new coach, some intriguing prospects to monitor and very little competition for jobs. The seven defensemen, all signed to one-way contracts, are virtually set in stone.
The biggest story of the opening of camp will be the status of Rick DiPietro, Bill Guerin and Mike Sillinger, who are all coming off major surgeries. Logan will be all over it.
By the way, maybe someone smarter than me (are you there, Eric Hornick of MSG?) can look this up. In the modern era of the NHL, what is the closest to the start of training camp that a team hired its head coach? Have to believe the Islanders may be approaching a record.
Islander fans: two things need to happen for these pathetic blogs by non-hockey writers ripping the Islanders on Newsday.com to go away.
One, the Islanders have to stick to their plan and take a step forward over the next 12 months. This doesn’t necessarily mean sneaking into the eighth spot, but the team playing hard, prospects coming along and management making smart moves consistent with their vision.
Two, fans have to resist the urge to pelt Newsday with letters to the editor, phone calls to Melville and dozens of posts in the Comments area.
Just sayin’, but if I’m a sports blogger and my Comments section has been running dry lately, here’s what I would do: write a few paragraphs on the fisherman logo and the Luongo trade and Neil Smith and – presto – wait for the call of congratulations from my boss for all the hits my blog just got.