The ax fell upon New York Islanders Head Coach Jack Capuano last week, satisfying scornful fans tired of slogging through another disappointing season—one that seemingly flushed all of the hope from the team’s measure of playoff success last year. While assistant coach and NHL stalwart Doug Weight takes over the coaching duties on an interim basis, the search begins again for a capable candidate to take over the hottest seat on the island.
Before that search begins, Long Island Weekly looks back on some of the Islanders’ most unceremonious exits.
Ted Nolan (2006-08)
The proverbial NHL outsider returned to coaching with the Islanders after nine full seasons of being exiled from the league. A fan favorite who fought to a 75-68-21 and 2007 playoff appearance after a memorable late-season run, Nolan has the auspicious honor of being hired the same day the Islanders named Neil Smith as the new general manager. Smith only lasted 40 days before former backup goalie Garth Snow was given the reins and franchise goaltender Rick DiPietro was signed to an absurd 15-year contract. Snow eventually axed Nolan, citing philosophical differences.
The name Mike Milbury often sends fragile Islanders fans into nervous fits, as memory after memory of lousy trades and asinine draft choices all come rushing back. In the eyes of many fans, former general manager Milbury set the team back decades with his decisions—but in all honesty, as ill-equipped as he was to built a winning team, Milbury was hamstrung by ownership turmoil and financial disasters. In terms of coaching, Milbury twice named himself head coach, and both times it turned into a circus more apt for Ringling Bros. than a hockey rink.
The Islanders brought in Steve Stirling as the player-friendly antidote to Laviolette’s hard-driving style—but an affable attitude did not inspire success. Stirling’s first season saw the team finish with a 38-29-11-4 record, before losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs. That would prove to be Stirling’s apex, as the team faltered during his next season and he was axed after 42 games.
Peter Laviolette’s tenure on the Island began on a positive note, with the long-suffering franchise tasting the playoffs for the first time since 1994. With a scrappy gang of role players led by captain Michael Peca and pricey sniper Alexi Yashin, the team looked poised to shake its reputation as a league-wide joke. It wasn’t meant to be however, as Laviolette’s chilly relationship with general manager Mike Milbury and owner Charles Wang eventually boiled over, leading to the coach’s termination. Laviolette went on to win the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes, while the Islanders descended into a string of unsuccessful seasons.