Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Young and the Coachless

Guest blogger Brian Carey

It's July and what should be a time of mini camps and free agent leftovers has turned into another circus of sorts for the Islanders. With the departure of Ted Nolan, the Isles began their search for a new head coach yesterday, with Paul Maurice getting the first crack. The list of other candidates (Quenville, Tortorella, Hartley, Gallant, Sullivan) is a mix of proven winners and other less successful coaches. Snow has a tough decision ahead of him.

I will always have the greatest respect for Ted Nolan, who got more out of this team than anyone ever expected, with less to work with than most teams. The rift between coach and GM, well documented across the internet, just proved too much. As much as this hurts, Snow made the right move here. He accomplished two things. First, he established himself as the clear leader in the front office, the man to answer to. The "committee" model just wasn't working. Too many people to answer to, and nobody to answer to. Second, he gets to hire his first head coach, someone who shares a vision for this team. Nolan wasn't that guy.

In order to get a rocket into space, an enormous amount of energy is required, with various pieces on the ship discarded to fall back to earth leaving the remaining rocket to push the limits of space and to reach it's ultimate goal.

It may be tough to recognize, but guys like Yashin, Peca brought us a good measure of respect around the league a few years back, and when that respect started to fade, and when we had to discard those pieces of the rocket, a guy like Ted Nolan helped push us further into space.

Well, another big piece of the Islanders rocket is now falling back to earth and the team's goal is clear - build a consistent winner with developed youth and some proven veteran leadership. When this team does finally take the next step, we'll all have to remember to tip our caps to guys like Ted Nolan (and to a lesser degree Yashin and Peca).

The Isles are finally getting this right, and much to Snow's credit, they are realizing that they cannot build a winner through free agents and trades. I, for one, am happy that we will actually see our drafted prospects play for us, and not thrive elsewhere as the result off an ill-conceived trade.

The Isles have signed our young core to contracts that will give them 2-3 years to develop together and create a chemistry that should breed success at the NHL level. Now it's time for Okposo, Bergenheim, Comeau, Neilsen and Tambellini to prove they belong in the NHL. It's time for Guerin and Weight (a vastly underrated signing in my opinion) to assert their leadership to help these guys develop. It's now time for the Isles to hire the right coach to mold this team into a consistent playoff contender for years to come.

The new coach must be a proven molder of talent, someone who is willing to take the ups and downs a young team is likely to go through. I have seen some calls that the Isles hire a coach with some name recognition, just to offset some of the PR damage to the team. I disagree, and by this point in time, Isles fans should have enough scar tissue built up to easily deflect the constant ridicule. A guy like Maurice or Quenville seems like the best fit to me, and satisfies both the name recognition and the development molds.

It's July, the time of the year when Isle's fans are at their most optimistic. We have to taper our expectations with what this team is most likely to achieve this year. A playoff berth would be the pie in the sky but the #1 pick next year is just as unlikely. Can our new coach squeeze as much out of this group as Ted Nolan did? Only time will prove that, something Islanders fans know all too well.

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