Peter Laviolette had some success with the Isles before wearing out his welcome. (Ed Betz/AP)
By Allan Muir
A season that began with such fresh promise is unraveling like a Rob Ford lie on Long Island. The Islanders are in last place in the Metropolitan Division, and coming off an eighth-straight loss on Thursday night. They're struggling to correct their course before the playoffs are completely out of their reach, but the outlook is getting grimmer by the day.
Something has to give. But are they really ready to pin the blame on coach Jack Capuano?
Botta is a top-notch reporter with deep ties in the organization. If he's throwing Laviolette's name out for public consumption, there's likely more than a little smoke here.
And it's a name that's sure to catch the attention of the dispirited tribe known as the Isles faithful. Laviolette spent two seasons (2001-03) behind the bench on Long Island, guiding a hard-working team to the playoffs both times before being dismissed by infamous GM Mike Milbury in a fit of pique. Since then, Laviolette has won a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes (2006), coached Team USA at the Olympics (2006), and guided the Flyers to the Cup Final (2010). These days he's working as an assistant for Team USA, and is doing some heavy scouting ahead of the team's roster selection.
He's an undeniably capable guy...but bringing him on now would be a pointless move, wouldn't it?
That's not a knock on Laviolette, but on the misguided logic of changing the coach in the first place. Peruse the laundry list of problems facing this team--the injury-ravaged defense, the painful struggles between the pipes, the underachieving offense, the confidence of a pimply-faced teen--and you'd have to work your way pretty far down before Capuano took any blame. Al Arbour in his dynastic prime couldn't win with this mess.
But when things are this bad, when you've lost eight in a row and face the prospect of four on the road against Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose and Phoenix...well, you know what they say about desperate times.
GM Garth Snow may feel like he already made his one big shake-up move when he moved Matt Moulson for Thomas Vanek back in October. He said at the time of the deal that he wasn't happy with the way the team was playing and he hoped that the former 40-goal man from Buffalo would get the Isles back on track. But while Vanek looks decent playing on a line with superstar John Tavares, he hasn't provided much of a spark. He's contributed just four goals in 13 games (he missed five contests due to injury), and the team has gone 4-14 since he arrived. Meanwhile, the Sabres were gifted with first- and second-round picks in the swap. Islanders fans may be wise to stock up on crates of antacids or jugs of good, strong whiskey and give thanks that the first-rounder is conditional. (The Isles have an option to push it back to 2015 if it ends being a top 10 next June.)
Maybe Snow is thinking that the trades he needs to make most right now--you know, a reliable keeper and a top defender--are either too rich for his blood or he's having trouble finding a dance partner.
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Either way, he's left with two choices: leave things as they are and hope for a Christmas miracle...or the other one.
But if Snow does make the switch behind the bench, he has to understand it could be the last big call he makes for the Isles. His failure to deliver a more aggressive bid for Cory Schneider at the draft, and his decision to run with aging Evgeni Nabokov for another year, are two main reasons why this team is in the jam it is. Meanwhile, the farm, laden with defensive prospects (the Isles took seven in the 2012 draft) isn't ready to deliver the cavalry.
That's all on Snow, not Capuano.
It'll be interesting to see how this plays out, especially since the received edict was that the Isles are sick of waiting until next year to take their next big step.