When the puck drops on October 6th at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, it will not only be the start of the New York Islanders season, but will also mark Doug Weight’s first official game as the full-time head coach.
Doug Weight was named the interim head coach after General Manager Garth Snow fired Jack Capuano back in January, who had served as the team’s coach since 2010. Capuano had lead the Islanders to a 17-17-8 record and last place in the Eastern Conference, a far cry from the high expectations that the team had for themselves after an exciting playoff run in 2016; a run that earned the Islanders their first playoff victory in 23 years after defeating the Florida Panthers in the opening round.
While trying to find a way to accept the responsibilities of being named head coach, and propel his team into playoff contention, Weight thrived despite being in a very tough position. The Isles went 24-12-4, and won the last six games of the season, falling just one point shy of making the playoffs.
Many players began to prosper while under his watch as well. Ryan Strome, who had repeatedly struggled with Capuano behind the bench, excelled with Weight at the helm. Before injuring his wrist, Strome had 30 points on the season, but 15 of those points only came in the 24 games he played between February and March. Strome’s end of the year resurgence is likely what made him considered valuable to the Edmonton Oilers, as he was all it took to bring in Jordan Eberle via trade earlier this summer.
Andrew Ladd, who signed here last summer due to his close relationship with Weight, finally kicked his offense into gear over the second half of the season as well. Ladd scored 13 of his 23 goals with Weight in charge of the bench.
As of now, the Islanders roster is more or less looking the same as last year, aside from Travis Hamonic being traded to the Calgary Flames for draft picks, and the aforementioned deal that saw Strome exchanged for Eberle. Although rumors have circulated that Snow has been kicking the tires in search of a second line center, he may feel confident enough with his current roster due to Weight’s ability to turn last season around.
But are the Islanders now a contending playoff team? Well, that’s a discussion that this blog will continuously have while monitoring Doug Weight’s progress as the head coach. There are reasons to be optimistic, but the fact of the matter is that Weight is still very inexperienced.
It doesn’t help either that he will have another inexperienced coach working as his assistant. While Scott Gomez was a dynamic and exciting player to watch that won two Stanley Cups as a member of the New Jersey Devils, he is merely just beginning his coaching career as of next season. Perhaps he can help the power play, since 255 of his 756 career points came with the man-advantage.
But coaching a power play is very different than skating on one.
Therefore, hiring Luke Richardson and Kelly Buchburger to be assistant coaches have appeared to be very wise moves by Weight.
Richardson spent the last four years as the head coach for the Binghamton Senators, the Ottawa Senators’ farm team in the AHL. He also was an assistant coach of for Ottawa from 2009-2012, and led Canada to a Spengler Cup championship last year as well.
Buchberger was the vice president of player development for the Edmonton Oilers last season, and was the team’s assistant coach between 2008 and 2014. He also spent two years as the manager of player personnel for the Oilers.
Both Richardson and Buchberger were teammates of Weight’s while with the Edmonton Oilers. Richardson had plenty of playoff experience as a player, despite not winning a Stanley Cup. Buchberger, on the other hand, won two while playing for Edmonton.
To round out his coaching staff, Weight also hired Fred Brathwaite, who previously was the goaltending consultant for Hockey Canada and was goalie coach for Germany’s Adler Mannheim. He served as a back-up goalie in the NHL for nine years, playing some time for the Oilers as well.
Brathwaite will also be accompanied by Chris Terreri, the former goaltending coach for the New Jersey Devils. Terreri, who was hired on August 23rd, will serve as the Isles’ goaltending development coach, as well as the goaltending coach for their farm team, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
Greg Cronin is the only assistant coach from last season that worked the bench that will remain in an associate role.
Hiring experienced, veteran coaches to replace a staff that did not meet last year’s expectations should hopefully prove to be the right choices made by Weight.
Team captain John Tavares has yet to sign his extension with the New York Islanders, and many believe it is hinging on the arena issues that currently surround the future home of the franchise. With that said, a successful regular season followed by a deep playoff run would likely show signs of the team moving in the right direction and encourage Tavares to sign a long-term deal.
It is also believed that the decision of Weight being named head coach received some influence from Tavares, as the two are very close. During his rookie season, Tavares was living with Weight while he was the captain in 2009-2010.
With training starting this month, we will be able to gain a closer look at some of the line combinations, defensive pairings, as well as the playing systems that Weight plans to implement for next year. But how will these decisions affect his team? Will young players like Joshua Ho-Sang, Anthony Beauvillier, and Mathew Barzal progress under a team that seems to be focused on experience and advancing in the playoffs? Will players like Ladd be able to replicate and build on last season’s improvements? Will Tavares feel confident that Weight will be helping him lead this team to its first Stanley Cup championship since 1983?
These are just some of the questions that this blog will be focusing on. With the arena in question, and pressure surrounding this team’s immediate, as well as distant future, the 2018 season will be a big one.
Although he has been tirelessly working at his new job as head coach, Doug Weight certainly has his hands full.