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Friday, August 15, 2008

ISLANDERS HIRE SCOTT GORDON AS HEAD COACH




New York, NY (WFAN) -- It was February of 1996, and Scott Gordon and I were sitting having dinner at Jocks and Jills, a sports style restaurant at the CNN Center in Atlanta.Known to his friends as "Flash", we were talking about his first month on the job as head coach of the Atlanta Knights, then Tampa Bay's farm team in the International Hockey League. His collection of disgruntled NHL castoffs and promising prospects were muddling through but unbeknownst to us were about to rip off a wild win streak to cement a playoff spot on a West Coast road trip. Back then I was still an Islanders fan. While Al Arbour had packed his bags and shuffled off to a well deserved retirement, the Isles were still a competitive and fairly well run team. Armegeddon hadn't arrived yet in the form of Mike Milbury, effectively ending any affection I ever had for the franchise, until now. But I digress.Over what still has to be the best Corn Chowder soup in the world, I said to Flash, "Hey, maybe one day we'll both still be coaching and we'll take over the Islanders. That would be pretty cool." I'm thrilled today to see that one of us lived up to his end of the bargain.This could turn out to be a good hire much like the Florida Panthers hiring of Roger Neilson was a good one for their expansion year. The Islanders have seemed to have an expansion mindset recently and if that's the case, go with a young guy who is known for having his ducks in a row. Flash isn't flashy, but he's smart, organized, and will keep this ship running smoothly. Neilson got the Panthers up and running under former Isles dynasty architect Bill Torrey, and when he left the Panthers they were in great shape and wound up in the Stanley Cup Finals under his replacement Doug MacLean.Gordon wil keep Rick DiPietro happy but will also keep him in his place. He won't annoy the few veterans the Isles have because he has no ego nor can he say "when I won coach of the year in the NHL" or "you know, this is how we did it when we won the Stanley Cup." In many ways the entire dressing room is on even footing and they are all on a tryout to stay there when/if the Isles ever decide to break ground on the new building (which we reported has been approved by the Nassau county). The game plan is get some vets and a ton of kids, sell off the vets to get better kids from contending teams at the trade deadline and have a great corps of young talent if/when the new building arrives. It is a great plan. If anyone thinks Mike Sillinger, Bill Guerin, and Mike Comrie are part of the long term plan you are deluding yourself. If Doug Weight is still here in late March it's because a contending Stanley Cup team didn't have the right deal on the table to get him.This adds some level of accountability to the coach and the kids that you'd better do what's needed to rebuild the franchise or you won't be here long. To me, this is also a huge step for Garth Snow and it is nice to finally say (after two years) that he made the right decision. Bob Hartley and/or Paul Maurice would have stagnated the franchise. I still liked Joel Quennville as my top choice, but I think he realized what was in place here and at this point in his distinguished career knew he didn't need this particular gig.So now what?First things first. Let him hire his own staff and don't force him to inherit one. That never works. When Flash got the Atlanta head coaching job in mid season he immediately decided he needed an assistant and bypassed yours truly and hired former Knight (and Bruin and North Star) Al Pederson as his assistant. Their chemistry was great, and the team improved. Despite being swept in the opening round of the playoff that year to a veteran loaded Cincinatti Cyclones team (coached by former Rangers' coach Ron Smith) they took one game to 2OT and lost the other two by one goal. A couple of years later I was en route from Macon (Georgia) to New York after my second season as the Associate Head Coach of the Macon Whoopee (Central Hockey League) and knew that Flash's team, the ECHL's Roanoke Express was playing Richmond in the playoffs. (The assistant on that team was Long Island native Perry Florio). I had to drive through Richmond so I called Flash to tell him I was coming through.He invited me to stay in town with the team for the games and left me the key to his hotel room. I met him at the game and watched his outmanned team go toe to toe with a better Richmond squad. After the game back at the hotel, I commented that the team looked very organized and that it believed in what it was doing and played with great intensity.Flash responded that the level of accountability was very high and, because of that, his team played above its head on most nights. That sums up Flash, who is the same way. He's accountable and intense. That is the same type of mentality that his new team will need because through four lines and three defense pairs, they don't match up well with the top half of the conference. Getting the vets to buy in shouldn't be that hard because in reality those vets are playing for jobs on contenders later in the season. Getting the kids to buy in should be easy because they have to buy in or they'll be in Bridgeport making 65K. Seems this is a good first step. It is certainly worth watching, and when was the last time you said that about the Islanders since the spring of 1993?