NY Islanders News

Capuano is Made Head Coach, and Some Other Reflections of My Own on the Season and the Future

By John Panarese
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The Islanders took the “Interim” tag off of Jack Capauano today and he will be back as head coach for the team next season. The details of the arrangement are not available, but, overall, I believe this to be the first positive step forward for the team.

Without a doubt, I would never argue the point that we, as Islander fans, expected a better finish than 73 points and 13th place in the conference. Personally, back in early October, I thought the team would give the 8 spot in the playoff picture a much better run, and I had visions of 85 or 90 points as our finish in the standings. Like a lot of other Islander fans, there would be overall improvements in the team and the “rebuild” would take further steps forward.

Well, if u remove the first quarter of the campaign, and, realistically, the Islanders were among the best in the conference. After their dreadful October and November and the span of losing 20 out of 22 games, they surely turned their game around after the December 15 point. We saw the team slowly come together, and the true advancement came on February 11, “ferocious Friday” when the boys took it to the Penguins 9-3, and really stood up for one another and showed pride and intensity as a TEAM. Under Jack Capuano, they Isles got within 10 points of a playoff spot, which is a far cry from the 24 or 25 points they had been behind the 8 spot earlier in the season.

Injuries certainly played a major part in the fortunes of the team. One cannot deny that losing something in the area of 575 man games will take its toll on a team, especially when you end up with only one of your original 6 defensemen from opening night in the lineup on the last day of the season. Additionally, it got to the point in which guys had to be signed for 1 game amateur try outs just to fill a roster spot on the blue line. Yes, other teams overcame injuries and had their share of important players out of their lineups for extended periods of time, but considering the reality that the Islanders were also a young team to start with, their injuries and the specific players they lost for long stretches, such as Mark Streit, Kyle Okposo, and Dub Weight, surely impacted them a bit more profoundly.

Despite all of that, guys like, Travis Hamonic, stepped up and took on a role they probably were not quite ready to fill. Andrew MacDonald only raised the level of his game, while Jack Hillen put together an impressive second half of the season. Not a “rookie” or “youngster”, but when he was healthy, Milan Jurcina definitely became an integral part of the defense with Radek Martinek.

On the offense, we saw some pretty amazing developments that should give Islander fans a pretty positive feeling going into next season. So tell me, how brilliant does Garth Snow seem having snagged Michael Grabner after training camp, this coming after a season of Matt Moulson’s arrival? Who saw 34 goals and the team lead as the end result? How well did Grabner and Nielsen gel, and how well did that line improve when Okie was added?

Going into next season, the Tavares, Moulson and Parenteau line has certainly been established. Then, you have the chemistry of the afore mentioned Nielsen line with a full season of Kyle Okposo. Josh Bailey and Blake Comeau also seemed to work fine together, and we saw Matt Martin and Jesse Joensuu start to show their potential. So, without a doubt, the emergence of 3 forward lines with 3 30 goal scorers and 5 20 plus goal scorers in total is quite a nice development for this team.

Now that Jack Capuano has been signed as the coach for next season, Garth Snow should concentrate on keeping our restricted free agents in the fold, such as Michael Grabner. Additionally, to me, extending Zenon Konopka and keeping him as our fourth line center is another move Snow should get done right away. I cannot stress enough the value of Z and the intangibles he has brought to the Islanders this season. Sometimes, it’s not the goals and assists that define the importance of the presence of a player in the lineup.

As for potential free agents who will be available after July 1, well, that will be a topic for another day. There are a lot of avenues Garth can go, especially if you add the card of a 4th or 5th round pick and even the chance of winning the lottery tonight to get the top draft pick. That’s the kind of position that can lead to a big time trade or another impact, young player to join the core of talent we possess.

As an Islander fan, as much as one might find “disappointment” in not having made the playoffs, one also cannot help still being excited by what we did see from mid December on. There were, to me, so many positives that came out of this team, and I personally am looking forward to see how these guys will continue to grow and develop as a team. Championship teams are often defined by a “core” group of players who are central to its success. I think with John Tavares and company, we have truly begun to see a core of guys who are establishing the future of this organization quite brightly.

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