Some keys to the New York Islanders success for the 2016-17 season hinge on Jack Capuano’s ability to grow as a coach.
I don’t make a lot of friends with my feelings for Jack Capuano and frankly feel like his number 17 ranking recently was far too kind to him. I believe he’s plateaued as coach of the Islanders and will generally not take the team further. However, since management has decided to stick with him, the keys to the Islanders success are going to hinge on him and his ability to rise above his own limitations.
Here’s what Capuano needs to do.
Evolve Brock Nelson
One might say it’s hard to find fault with a guy who scored 26 goals but I’m not one of those people. I don’t have rose-colored glasses when it comes to Brock Nelson and have always found him to be even more frustrating than Josh Bailey, despite back to back 20 goal seasons. Maybe I’m constantly guilty of the ‘what have you done for me lately’ mentality when it comes to Nelson. However, his inconsistency and disappearances through the length of the hockey season (and the playoffs) makes me crazy. Like yell at the television, everyone’s coming running to see what’s wrong crazy.
The mishandling of Ryan Strome is well documented and through the season Capuano attempted to hold him accountable for his poor play. This was never the case with Nelson and while there’s a hope that Nelson will put it all together so accountability won’t be necessary, I’m not that confident.
Not Screwing Up Ryan Pulock
The sample size we have for Ryan Pulock’s ability to play with the big boys in the NHL is small, but gosh did he ever bring it up a notch when the Islanders needed him in the first round of the playoffs. Rocket launcher shot aside, there was a level of poise with which the kid played that gave some level of hope that we got a cornerstone defenseman.
Now it’s up to Capuano not to mess it up. Pulock needs opportunity to play. He needs to step in with guys like Travis Hamonic and Johnny Boychuk and learn how to play an 80 game season with the big guys. He needs opportunity to hone his skill and contribute. That last bit is what’s going to build the confidence and that’s what these young lads need. It’s something Capuano has to figure out how to instill.
Let Boychuk Be Boychuk
I’m not on the trade/get rid of Boychuk wagon. I can no longer imagine the New York Islanders without Boychuk and feel pretty bad for the Bruins fans still missing the guy. Earlier this offseason I chose to grade him if only because it was a challenge for me to separate my adoration for him from the regression in play from one season to the next. The past is past and what Boychuk brings to the Islanders isn’t expendable and should in fact earn him a letter on his sweater.
With that all said, it’s up to Capuano to utilize Boychuk’s strengths, which is something he did in 55’s first season on the Island. I’m not a fan of Mike Sullivan (except for when I really am) but when he took the reins in Pittsburgh, he worked his guys’ strengths. He pulled the leash off and let Crosby be Crosby and what happened then? 87 had a second half that should have won him a Hart Trophy. Yes, Boychuk isn’t Crosby. This is still an area where Capuano can take a lesson from guys smarter than he is. He’s got to let Boychuk be Boychuk and put him in situations to shoot the puck and use his head.
Eliminate the ‘Islanders Need to Find Their Legs’ Pitfall
This is a Butch-ism or at the very least something our beloved color guy uttered in the majority of games the Islanders played last season. And sure, the players have to take responsibility for their play. When it’s a constant, though, it’s time to look at the deeper issue. Stagnant is stagnant and better coaches than Capuano have been let go because of it. Bruce Boudreau, Barry Trotz, and Dan Bylsma are just a few that come to mind.
Two years in a row, this team didn’t show up to an elimination game. That game seven against Washington, they could claim inexperience. I’ll buy it – a little. Game five against Tampa this past May was a travesty and they couldn’t chalk it up to inexperience. I have a hard time with the notion that Tampa was that much better, especially missing Steven Stamkos (not that Jon Cooper would necessarily play him like the star he is) and one of their top pair d-men in Anton Stralman. Capuano had no answer for Victor Hedman and of all people, Brian Boyle (I will probably never get over this Boyle thing, sorry).
Newsflash: if you’re going to win, you have to have these answers.
When every guy on this team is there to play, something special happens. We didn’t see enough of it last season and Capuano has got to find a way to make it a regular thing.
In a perfect world, Capuano takes a page from Patrick Roy’s book and resigns so the Islanders can jump on the Travis Green train before it pulls away to Vegas. But then in a perfect world, Stamkos gave the Islanders the time of day. This is the real world, though. It’s the one where John Tavares gets Andrew Ladd and we have to watch Capuano bumble through another season where this team does just enough – maybe – despite him.