By Jim Kelley
August 14, 2008

On balance, newly appointed New York Islanders coach Scott Gordon is entitled to say whatever he wants about the future of what is currently one of the NHL's most downtrodden franchises.

Gordon talking about desire, that's good. Talking about having a belief in self, that's really good and necessary. Talking about growing along with the team and developing players, well that's a given.

But when Gordon, to date a career coach who's taking his first tentative steps into the NHL, mentioned the words "Stanley Cup" and the Islanders in the same sentence it was a big mistake.

It's not that he wasn't correct when he said, "You have to have the belief that you're going to win the Stanley Cup." And he wasn't off base when he clarified by adding, "To do that, you have to believe that you could win every game. Whatever the situation is, you go into every game believing you could win."

But Gordon could have made that point without mentioning the Cup, something Islander fans haven't seen in decades. Those are the kind of words that tend to doom coaches once the final accounts on a season are taken.

It happens all the time, but for reference purposes let's just go back to last fall when Paul Maurice, then the coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, declared that his team, a team that hadn't even made the playoffs in the previous two seasons, was a good team that would be a Cup contender in 2007-08.

As we all know, the Leafs missed the postseason for a third straight time, and though one could make the argument that Maurice turned in the best coaching performance of his three years in Toronto, he was still dismissed.

Dicey thing, that Cup speech. It's designed to pump up morale and help players believe they can compete for the game's ultimate prize. At the same time, it's the lightning rod that often carries the current of disappointment for fans and media, who, in the end, make it easier for the general manager to place blame on one easily replaced person when everyone knows the real problem is a poor team that not even the second coming of Scott Bowman and Toe Blake could reasonably be expected to save.

Given that we all know the Islanders, in their current state, are that kind of a failed franchise, invoking the Cup is dangerous. Islanders ownership is, well, inept. General manager Garth Snow is ambitious but wildly inexperienced, and the team attracts the kind of talent usually too young, too old and to erratic to form any kind of cohesive unit. It is, in essence, the kind of situation that essentially has the 45-year-old Gordon, the reigning Coach of the Year in the American Hockey League, placing nail one in the soft wood of his eventual coaching coffin simply by accepting the job.

It shouldn't be that way, but then if you look at the Islanders, Ted Nolan should not have been dismissed. If you want to dwell on the subject, the same might be said for Brad Shaw, Steve Stirling, Peter Laviolette and maybe even Lorne Henning, Butch Goring, Bill Stewart, Mike Milbury and Rick Bowness. They were all coaches of some repute who struggled with the struggling franchise.

It's not like any of those men didn't know how to coach. (OK, take your best shot on Milbury, but I'll argue he knew coaching -- it was just managing where he might been a little eccentric.) It's just that nearly all of them faced the same problem that Gordon faces now: not enough talent.

Now, every NHL team seems to face that Paris Hilton-like problem from time to time. But when you're dealing with a dysfunctional franchise like the Islanders, a franchise that makes people think the Maple Leafs are headed in the right direction, you're dealing with a systemic problem.

This is a team that simply isn't run well, hasn't been for years. It's the kind of place where experienced coaches like Joel Quennvelle, John Tortotella, Bob Hartley, Maurice, Marc Crawford and a slew of other seasoned but currently unemployed coaches don't necessarily object to being passed over.

Gordon, no doubt, understands that. He didn't get this job because he was the best man available. He got it because he's an up-and-coming coach who deserves his shot at the NHL -- and also because of the combination of having more experienced men not wanting it and a general manager who probably wouldn't be comfortable with them if they had.

It's possible it could all work out for Gordon. Owner Charles Wang might suddenly develop some patience and Snow might forge a relationship that would allow Gordon to grow as a coach while Snow grows as a general manager. (Hey, it worked in Buffalo where the never-head-coach, Lindy Ruff, paired off with the never-general-manager, Darcy Regier, and a 10-year relationship was both forged and continues to this day.) In addition, Gordon is known for his communication skills and is a former goaltender, facts that should hold him in good standing with Rick DiPietro, who, with 13 years left on his contract, some would argue holds as much or even more sway with Wang than Snow. (See Nolan firing for some evidence in that regard.)

But at the end of the day, Gordon signed on to coach a poor hockey team that struggles to attract talent from the ownership office on down. Want proof? Just dig up that picture of just two seasons ago when Wang was surrounded by Nolan, Milbury, former GM Neil Smith and advisors like Pat LaFontaine and ask where they -- and the Islanders -- are now. In less time than you can say "what the heck", only Wang remains and the Stanley Cup is not in that picture.

It may well be that Leafs defenseman Bryan McCabe could be trade bait for the Florida Panthers if he does indeed waive his no-movement clause with the lease, but that's not a given.

It is a given that McCabe will waive the clause, but it won't happen until after Sept. 1, at which point, sources confirm, he will collect some $2 million in bonus money and then agree to be moved to a team that's interested, but also of his choosing.

Florida could be that team, but McCabe's Toronto ticket is high, in excess of $6 million for the upcoming season and $4.15 million in each of the two remaining years after this one. The New York Islanders are said to be interested if they can make the contract work and convince McCabe that his offseason home would also be a great place to play his remaining hockey years.

The New York Rangers are said to be interested if they can create cap space, and that's close to his offseason home as well. Boston might have interest but there is doubt that McCabe has interest in the Bruins. He might take a look at the Philadelphia Flyers if the Flyers can make cap space.

Flyers coach John Stevens getting a contract extension (an announcement is imminent) could factor into McCabe's thinking.

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