Ted Nolan wasn't general manager Garth Snow's choice to be coach of the New York Islanders, so it was probably inevitable that he would end up gone at some point. Just not in the middle of the summer and with one year left on his contract.
The time to dump him would have been right after New York's season ended in April, which would have given Nolan a better shot at finding another job and the team a wider range of choices to replace him. Then again, these are the Islanders we're talking about, an organization that marches to the beat of its own drummer while always seeming to wear ear plugs that muffle the sound.
Still if the timing is a bit surprising, the action isn't necessarily so because right now, the Islanders are going nowhere under Nolan. And his ideas about how to fix things are radically different from Snow's.
That might help explain why Nolan has a reputation among some league insiders as being someone who is difficult to work with. It's one reason he went nearly a decade between NHL coaching jobs before hooking up with the Islanders in 2006, although to Nolan and several others, there was an element of racism involved in the perceived blackballing of the member of Canada's First Nation.
Make up your own mind on that one. Nolan's previous and only other NHL gig ended in 1997 after he was named coach of the year for the Buffalo Sabres, but rejected in his quest for a contract extension. The incident ended up costing GM John Muckler his job as well, but while the well-connected Muckler was recycled a couple of times as both a coach and GM, Nolan could never get more than token interviews when positions because available.
Then New York's iconclastic owner, Charles Wang, hired Nolan after an organizational shakeup that ousted longtime GM Mike Milbury. It was an unusual move because Wang brought in Nolan before hiring Milbury's replacement, who turned out to be former Rangers GM Neil Smith. Less than two months into his new job, Smith was dumped in favor of Snow, who had been the Islanders backup goalie to that point.
Like I said before, these are the Islanders we're talking about
Somehow though, the odd relationship worked well at first because Nolan showed his skills as a motivator and led a lackluster Islanders team predicted to finish near the bottom of the pack to a surprise playoff spot. But it all fell apart last season when the team finished missed the playoffs thanks to a series of key injuries and a distinct lack of talent.
And those were only the problems that were apparent on the surface. Behind the scenes, Nolan and Snow became disenchanted with each other mainly because the coach, figuring his job was to win, wanted to use his veterans as much as possible. Snow, meanwhile, took a longer term view, accepting that the season was a lost cause and imploring Nolan to give more ice time to young players he believed were critical to the rebuilding process and to modify his system of play.
Nolan essentially stuck to his guns and his on-ice strategies and the Islanders kept losing. But the breaking point came in a March radio interview when Snow questioned Nolan's decision to play backup goalie Wade Dubielewicz ahead of Rick DiPietro, who had been cleared after an injury.
Subsequently, Nolan didn't help himself by talking out loud about a contract extension and complained about the dearth of talent he was working with. In other words, there were clearly the "philosophical differences" that were cited as the official explanation for the parting of ways Monday.
And that's fair enough. But the thing is, the GM is one who usually gets the last word in these situations and as a rule, holds the fate of the coach in his hands. You would think that after his previous experience in Buffalo, Nolan would have been more mindful of that.