A Case for Capuano that even Clarence Darrow couldn’t win.
Among the Islander faithful these days it is an almost universally held belief that Islander coach Jack Capuano is on his last legs with the team. The Isles have suffered loss after loss, usually by failing to rebound fully after falling into an insurmountable hole during a short stretch of the game.
On at least two occasions the team allowed three goals in about five minutes or less, and never recovered. Earlier in the season goal scoring wasn’t a problem – as I noted in an earlier article the team had three of the ten top scorers, and their power play was in the top third of the league. But is the criticism too harsh? Is there a case for Capuano?
Fast forward to Saturday’s tilt with Washington. The Isles scored just two goals – a total they’ve exceeded just once in their last six outings – and lost their third straight home game. Ironically, by taking the Caps to overtime the team scored a minor victory – the point they picked up for the OT loss was the first they’d earned in two full weeks.
Throughout all of this, Capuano’s name has been on the tip of every fan’s tongue. He’s killing the team, they say. He’s mismanaging the talent. He won’t reunite the successful line of Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo. The team called up Calvin de Haan, and Capuano didn’t dress him. Rookie Matt Donovan played his heart out for him, and he had him sent to Bridgeport.
Even those who wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt have, for the most part, thrown their lot in with the dissenters and taken up the cry for Capuano’s head on a stake. Every armchair expert in the Islander Nation, it seems, has bought in.
The players, naturally, have spoken in Capuano’s defense. Is that going through the motions, saying the right things at the right times, or do they have genuine affinity for their coach? The former is the case, in all likelihood. On the other hand, John Tavares has blossomed under Capuano, from first overall draft pick to Hart Trophy finalist. Surely the man who’s taken heat for derailing Nino Niederreiter’s career would have had a negative impact on such a budding superstar as Tavares?
Isn’t Capuano the guy who took the team to the playoffs last season? The guy under whom they almost toppled the archrival Penguins? Yes, he is. And it should be noted that this season’s team is, by and large, not that different from the team that had the entire league watching last spring.
The coach can’t be blamed for a rash of injuries, of that there is no question. But a great coach is able to make the most of a bad situation, and it could be argued that gaping defensive holes and goaltending woes aside, the Isles have enough talent to have picked up at least some of the points that have slipped away from them.
The key is the mindset, and especially with a young and inexperienced team the proper mental focus must be initiated by the coach.
But what about the fact that Capuano is, inexplicably, the second winningest coach in Islander history?
That’s right, this season Capuano passed Peter Laviolette – the frontrunner for the job in many fans’ minds – on the Isles’ all-time list. Surely that counts for something, doesn’t it? Yes… and no. Capuano took longer to get there. And he only had to get to 78 to get by Laviolette.
And in the interest of fairness, and with all due respect to the members of the NHL coaching fraternity (a club of which I am by no means a member), it should be mentioned that even behind the great Al Arbour, 92 wins is nothing to get especially excited about.
So after all this, what is the case for Jack Capuano? Unfortunately for Jack, I don’t see that there is one. I happen to think he’s a reasonably capable coach who was given an assignment he was not ready for, and was unable to adapt in time. Perhaps he would fare better in a different scenario, with some experience now under his belt.
But regardless of what I or anyone else thinks, whether or not he is a capable coach is irrelevant at this point: it is becoming clear he’s lost the confidence of the team, whatever momentum they gained with last year’s great run has been largely forgotten.
It is fairly important for the team to go into this summer’s free agency on a strong note, if not to sign high profile players than at the very least to retain as many of those already with the organization as possible.
Fair or not, right or wrong, whether or not it makes even an iota of difference to the season, it seems as though a change is in order.