Monday, July 7, 2008

Top-Down Management

Let me start by offering major kudos to Chris Botta, former VP of Media Relations and mastermind of (NYI) Point Blank. What started as an "insider's" blog has only grown more interesting since he severed ties with the organ-eye-zation. The Blogfather, as we inaugural Blog Box members anointed him, never showed this kind of punch in any of the in-person encounters I had with him. When it comes to the written word, however, few can match his honesty and insight.

His latest entry focuses on an issue touched upon briefly in my own blog in the past - the Ted Nolan situation. Ultimately, this entire discussion boils down to one basic question - is Ted the right coach for this team for the upcoming season and beyond?

Of course, this is impossible to answer without a lot more information. As much as fans like to offer opinion-as-fact, none of us know what goes on behind closed doors. None of us really know who-said-what-to-whom or what anyone really thinks deep-deep down in their souls. But why should we let that stop us from adding our two cents?

First, you need to examine the relationship between coach and GM. In my eyes, the relationship between Ted and Garth is damaged. I'm basing that on three things:

1) The increasing lack of humor I saw from Ted Nolan over the course of the season. One of the perks of being a Blog Boxer is the post game access we are granted. Over the course of the year, I saw Ted evolve from a smiling, positive figure into a let's-get-this-over-with kinda guy. Maybe my judgment is off and I'm simply wrong, and even if I'm not there's no saying that his demeanor was a result of his relationship with Isles management. But from my perspective, I felt like I was watching a guy growing more dissatisfied by the day.

2) The interaction between Ted and Garth at the Stakeholders Meeting on April 16th. In short, there was no interaction. Both men knew at the time that their relationship was being scrutinized, and neither made any attempt to quiet the rumblings...even if only for appearances.

3) Things I've read, particularly from Greg Logan and now Chris Botta.

So if we take for granted that things are strained between the two, we need to ask ourselves if it really matters? Does it translate to the on-ice product? My answer is an unequivocal YES.

Let's say Garth is the best GM is the league (stay with me, people) and Ted is a perennial coach of the year candidate. Individually they are at the top of their respective fields. But if they cannot work well together - with respect - towards a common goal, it will never work. It's true of any organization. Garth needs to provide the players and resources for Ted to execute his vision, and Ted need to execute consistent with the organization's goals. Most importantly, both sides to need to understand what is expected from the other. The incentive for most coaches is to "win now" in order to provide a little job security. The Islanders are in a position where the decisions Ted might make to "win now" are counter productive to the long-run health of the team. Garth and Ted need to work together to map out goals and the roadmap to get there. If they can't get on the same page, a change needs to be made.

Next, you need to look at the relationship between Ted and the players. It gets dangerous in sports when you let the players dictate who should be the coach. There's a reason you don't let the inmates run the asylum. But in hockey, and in the Islanders case specifically, there are some things you need to be mindful of. Free agency is such a factor nowadays that you can't afford to allow your players to grow too dissatisfied. They can and will be gone as soon as their contracts allow. In fact, remembering back to when we hired Ted, one of the big advantages was that he was a "player's coach" and the kind of guy that could attract talent that our facility and recent history would otherwise not enable us to get. If he's having the opposite effect, that is a problem. And if there are issues with DP, the blue-chip face of our franchise for the next decade-plus, that is something that needs to be addressed immediately. In my experience, it all starts from the top. If Ted and management can get on the same page, it will be easier for Ted to communicate and execute a consistent message to the team. It won't guarantee unity, but it will certainly help.

As a fan, I feel that Ted has gotten more out of this team than I expected over the past two seasons (factoring in injuries). I've questioned his tactical Xs-and-Os coaching at times, especially relating to the powerplay. But as far as squeezing as much as he could out of our limited talent, I think he did a good job. So from that perspective, I'd like to see things work out. I'd like to see him surrounded by stronger assistants who can help in areas like the PP. But for this to happen, Ted, Garth and the rest of the management team need to do more than talk-the-talk. They need to run the organization as a team. United, respectful, and on the same page. Anything less will keep the Islanders on the bottom looking up for many more years to come.


7th Woman said...

This is a lot to ask Mike. But needless to say, it will be an interesting season non-the-less. But it always is. Nice job.

Anonymous said...

I'm concerned that a Snow / Nolan fall-out will have major repercussions on the young guys. If he's not your coach to develop a young team, cut ties now. That hurts to say, I think Teddy is a great coach but it's clear he favors vets (and Hilbert - does he have photos of Ted with a hooker or something?).

Mike Carey said...

I think Hilbert is a very solid defensive forward...but when your team can't score more than 2 goals in a game, that defensive presence is not what you need. I'm just glad Simon has moved on. Never before have I seen a guy so undeserving of power-play time get so many minutes.

Fish Bulb said...

I want to see Nolan succeed but I'm not yet convinced he is the man for this young team. Hope I'm wrong. I don't want to see the young guys lose a year of development because a new coach comes in after this season and puts in a new system. Clearly Snow and Nolan have butted heads. Snow has preached a new approach of stability and development from within. Will he apply that to the coach?