Thursday, November 3, 2016

Jack Capuano's Frustration with Limited Roster Showing after Latest Loss

Everybody is piling on the New York Islanders' brass these days. Now even their head coach joins the disgruntled.

The Isles have stumbled out of the gates to a 4-6-1 start this season and they don't look like the team they were last year. That's not good news for the Islanders, who were hoping to build on their first playoff series win in 23 years this year. But the losses of Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo to free agency, and the inability for the team's management to find the right player to serve as John Tavares' left winger, have left them reeling thus far.

Andrew Ladd was supposed to be the guy to thrive on Tavares' line, but he has registered one point in eleven games after signing a seven-year deal with the Isles for a whopping $38.5 million. 37-year-old Jason Chimera was supposed to provide grit and secondary scoring in a role similar to the one that Matt Martin held last season, but he too has been innefective (3 points in 11 games, minus-5).

At times it's hard to tell whether head coach Jack Capuano is a co-architect of the team's current roster, but on Thursday he tried to distance himself from Snow's wheeling and dealing this summer, or lack thereof.

"Where are we going to get point production?" Capuano told reporters. "Took 134 points out of our lineup, that we lost, now we have to find a way."

Capuano is referring to the loss of Kyle Okposo (64 points last season) and Frans Nielsen (52 points last season, plus invaluable contributions defensively, in the face-off dot and in shootouts). Matt Martin chipped in 19 points last season, bringing the total to 135, so we're guessing Capuano's math is just a little bit off.

Anyhow, the Isles coach appears to be venting his frustration with management--and he should. But one would think that he would have had more to say during the summer when the Isles were doing hardly anything to get better. When most teams were getting faster and younger, New York spent a good amount of its allotted resources on getting older and slower. With two years left on all-star center John Tavares' contract that is something the organizations simply can't afford. Where was Capuano then, when the team was aimlessly wandering through the summer without making a splash?

The Isles needed to commit to taking another step this season to prove to Tavares that they were on the road to putting a championship caliber team on the ice. Tavares has two years left until he's a free agent and New York can't negotiate with him until next July. If the team made some progress this year, those negotiations could have been a slam dunk. They way things are going it appears the Isles will need a full-court buzzer shot to ink Tavares to another deal in New York.

The organization has taken a significant step back and added some immovable contracts in the process.

How does a team with John Tavares have a power play that clicks at 10.3 percent? There simply are not enough skilled player on the Islanders, that's how. They've got a team full of third-liners, many of whom are solid players, but few of them are equipped enough to take over a game or dominate possession.

It will be a shame if the Tavares era comes and goes in New York without anything to show for it (both for the Islanders and Tavares), but whether GM Garth Snow or Capuano is to blame for the personnel decisions the club has made, it does appear to be headed in that direction in Brooklyn. The Islanders have one of the most talented, creative and dynamic forwards in the NHL, and they simply have not been able to find linemates to adequately support him.

Capuano can gripe now about the lack of talent in Brooklyn, but did he have the vision to see that the club needed more after the last two seasons? Did he engage in productive conversations with Snow and team ownership when the off-season was not progressing as planned? Or did the Islanders really think that 30-year-old Ladd (plus Chimera and now-jettisoned Parenteau) would be enough to replace to longtime prolific scorers on the roster?

It's worth it to note that the Islanders were not exactly a juggernaut with Nielsen and Okposo on the team. They limped into the playoffs last year and needed a whole lot of puck luck to get past Florida in a series that they were soundly outplayed in.

The writing was on the wall last season--the team was strong defensively and depth-wise but it needed to find a real stud (or two) to get the most out of Tavares. Cycling through a steady stream of journeymen and youngsters, Tavares has still been good enough to get his points and carry the team. But gosh he could be a 100-point player on the NHL's best line if the Islanders pulled the right strings. And having a line like that would create matchup nightmares for the opposition and let some of the Islanders' young forwards play with less pressure.

When the Oilers come to Brooklyn on Saturday there will be another painful reminder of the organization's ineptitude when it comes to finding a star to play alongside Tavares. Taylor Hall was dealt to New Jersey in the off-season for Adam Larsson--surely the Islanders could have put together a package that could have enticed the Oilers when they were desperate last season and sniffing around about Travis Hamonic. Nothing got done then, and nothing appears to be getting done now as New York has played its first month with three goalies on the roster and cut one of its key free agent acquisitions (P.A. Parenteau) before the season started.

New York is not the worst team in the league at the moment, but they are certainly near the bottom, and it's hard to visualize what can bring them back up. Their No.1 goaltender is on the trading block. Their coach is unhappy. The team is blowing leads late in games even when it plays well. And the worst may be yet to come.