(This post is part of a fundraiser for the ACLU and SPLC, two great causes that need our help in these, umm, trying political times. For a donation of $50 or more on Giving Tuesday, readers got me to write about whatever they wanted. So I wrote the nonsense below, which was requested by Dave Skurnik.)
Not really going out on a limb here, but I’m starting to get the feeling that Jack Capuano isn’t exactly working out as the coach of the Islanders.
That’s not new thinking or anything like that, but like, man he’s just not good at this, and hasn’t been for most of the time he’s been there. It would be tough to put him in the lower rung of NHL coaches just because he seems not to be actively harmful to his team — for reasons we’ll discuss in a second — but certainly he does not help them in any real way.
The Islanders aren’t really a well-run organization in the first place. One need only look at the amount of talent they allow to leave for any number of reasons, or the quality of the players they spend a lot of money to retain or acquire. They’re certainly not giving John Tavares much of an incentive to stick around once his contract is up after next year.
And Jack Capuano kind of personifies the Islander tendency toward the mediocre; big-market team that doesn’t (or at least hasn’t) spent money in a way that they otherwise could, and suffers as a result. The Islanders have made the playoffs three times in Capuano’s six seasons behind the bench and it doesn’t look like that number will improve this time out.
Under Capuano, they’re a 49.8 percent team in expected goals at 5-on-5, and I guess that sounds just about right. In terms of actual goals they’re at 47.6 percent, because they don’t usually have good goaltending (future All-Star JF Berube excluded). Or good depth talent. Or good systems. Or good coaching.
It’s fine to be mediocre in the NHL because even if you are, the Islanders clearly demonstrate you can still make the playoffs about half the time. But the Islanders at least should have greater aspirations in this league if only because Tavares is a singular talent and they ought to be building toward something with him, rather than wasting their time.
In retrospect, the Isles just weren’t great last year, barring a roughly six-week stretch in which they were, which petered out before the playoffs started. And the only reason they got to the second round is that they 2014-Calgary-Flames’d their way there: Beating a weak opponent in the first round then getting annihilated in the second by an actual good team.
Over 470 games, Capuano has the Islanders playing at a pace for about 88 points every 82 games. Most of the time you need to be in the low 90s. So that tells you plenty about where this team is, was, and has been headed.
They won’t be able to truly get ahead until they truly invest in competent management and coaching. Spending money just to spend it (i.e. on five years of Cal Clutterbuck) isn’t getting you anywhere.
Coaches’ salaries aren’t generally published in the NHL. Sometimes the figures get out and sometimes they don’t. Capuano’s seems not to have gotten out, but one expects he is pretty far down the list; some NHL coaches don’t even make seven figures, which seems crazy to me. Anyway, since the Leafs figured out you can get good coaches to improve your team without hurting your salary cap in any way, maybe it’s time the Islanders learned that lesson. One fewer season of Cal Clutterbuck (or hell, five) might have freed up the money they need to get a better coach. Just a thought.