Sometimes, you can't just think outside the box.
Give the New York Islanders credit for trying though, at least for the last couple of years. In that time, they've handed out what amounted to the first lifetime contract for a player in NHL history; fired a veteran GM 40 days after they hired him (he was replaced by the backup goalie); and brought in a coach no one in the league would touch for more than a decade.
|Rookie coach Scott Gordon hopes to make the move pay off for the Islanders. (AP)|
Scott Gordon brings impressive minor league credentials with him as he joins the Islanders, but he also arrives a time when Bruce Boudreau in Washington and John Stevens in Philadelphia have already blazed a trail for quick success by new coaches lacking NHL experience. It makes injecting the fresh blood of a rookie coach seem like less of a gamble, as San Jose, Atlanta and Florida have all shown with their hires this summer.
And now New York is following that lead in its rebuilding effort, bypassing a half dozen interviewed candidates with NHL experience to bring in Gordon less than a month after controversial Ted Nolan was fired.
"The bottom line has been to find a coach who fit into the plan we were executing," Islanders GM Garth Snow said during a news conference Wednesday to introduce Gordon. "He's the right coach for this organization."
And he is Snow's choice as well, which is no small consideration. Snow gave up his spot backing up franchise goalie Rick DiPietro to move upstairs in the summer of 2006 when the Islanders fired Neil Smith, but New York had already given the coaching job to Nolan, who was the NHL coach of the year for Buffalo in 1997 and then couldn't find another job.
Nolan and Snow seemed to have a workable relationship during their first year when the Islanders made it to the first round of the playoffs. But unable to retain key free agents last season and hit hard by injuries, New York faded from legitimate playoff contention quickly, creating tension between the coach and general manager over the use of personnel. Nolan favored veterans and Snow looked to get more ice time for developing youngsters; the situation reached a head late in the season when Nolan refused to start DiPietro in a key game. Last month the two sides decided to part ways.
After winning the power struggle, Snow had a chance to get coaches like John Tortorella, Bob Hartley and Marc Crawford with Stanley Cups on their résumés, but ultimately he joined the growing number of teams avoiding the recycle bin by tapping Gordon. The 45-year-old Massachusetts native is a coaching product of the Boston system, where he was the AHL Coach of the Year last season with the Providence Bruins. Snow said he was impressed with Gordon's communication skills, as well as his reputation for teaching the X's and O's, not a particular strength of Nolan's.
"Just because a player is in the NHL doesn't mean he has finished developing," Snow said. "What's evident by the way his teams have played is Scott is very technically sound and he's patient."
That's critical these days for the Islanders who seem to now accept that any success will have to come from within. Snow might not have much front office experience, but in a couple of seasons he has learned how tough it is to get free agents to come to New York unless they're at the end of their careers or grossly overpaid. That has made him shift his focus to drafting (he chose 13 players in June's draft) and developing.
Gordon, a U.S. Olympic goalie in 1992, seems like a good fit in that scheme of things. He began coaching at age 32 and has spent the past eight seasons working prospects at Providence, the last five as the head coach. Gordon also was a head coach for six seasons in the ECHL and the old IHL and is still bright-eyed enough to figure the only thing he has to worry about is getting used to the NHL life off the ice.
"Coaching is just coaching, the other stuff is the hard part," Gordon said.
What might be most important is that hiring someone like Gordon instead of a higher profile name keeps expectations from being raised very high, a good thing for Snow, who has finally and definitively put his philosophical stamp on the team.
Now he has to demonstrate that his thinking is right.