Doug Weight made me nervous.
Back in late January, when he took over as interim coach for the New York Islanders, I wrote a blog about how the team should use the rest of the season to play their kids and take stock for the future, because obviously this squad was in/near the basement and would not make the playoffs.
In the end I was right, but man, did Weight and his charges make me sweat. New York was still in the hunt until Toronto clinched in Game 81 thanks to a run that saw the Islanders go 24-12-4 under Weight, even with cornerstone captain John Tavares missing the last five games of the season with a lower body injury.
Now, Weight has been named the team’s full-time coach for 2017-18 and it is definitely the right move. He won a Stanley Cup as a player and has paid his dues in the Islanders front office as an assistant GM and assistant coach.
“Doug had the respect of the players,” said GM Garth Snow. “From his playing career and from his role as assistant GM, having his hand in the draft, in trades and in free agent signings. There was a comfort level and a level of respect – you see how the players compete for him.”
When you look at the Islanders’ lineup, it’s not bad. Tavares is a top player in the NHL and there are some nice young forwards who will continue to improve over the summer to help him out. The blueline has a nice mix of experience and puckmoving ability. The goaltending situation was weird, but Snow said he has no qualms with his three-headed monster strategy, since the organization wanted to protect the very young pros in the minors this year.
Now, are they ready to hang with the Capitals or Penguins in the East? No. But Weight can get them back in the post-season next year and it’s clear he wants to establish a passionate, lunch-pail culture for the team. He likes how tight the players are with each other already (“I love our camaraderie,” he said) and getting his feet wet as the interim coach was a nice test.
“It was a good situation, coming in, having been part of the team for four years already,” Weight said. “It was real seamless – everyone picked up the rope and pulled together.”
Weight took two days after the season ended to contemplate the job and said it was important to meet face-to-face with all his bosses first. That priority on communication is a thread that goes throughout his philosophies, as regular phone chats with Tavares were also important during the season.
Funny enough, for a man who is very definitive in his plans now, Weight noted that it was Snow who first saw the former NHL center as a future coach five years ago when Weight retired as a player – he himself didn’t ever envision such a role. But it’s not surprising from an outsider’s perspective to see a former star jump back into the ring, where the competitive juices flow and strong leadership is paramount.
Now the key will be to actually do the job. Weight certainly has the respect level and the right attitude, but he admitted that the mantle of head coach is a heavy one (no pun intended).
“You move six feet down the bench and you think it will be the same,” he said. “But it’s not.”
His stint as an interim coach was incredible and now he’ll get 82 games to put his stamp on the franchise. Whether he gets them to Game 83 next year is the acid test.