As the hockey season draws near, there are many questions that will face the 2017-18 version of the New York Islanders. After missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2013-14 campaign, the expectations are still high for the Isles. With an entirely new coaching staff and new blood ready to make an impact, this season could be something special, or the final chapter before major changes is made. Over the next 30 days, our Rob Taub will give his thoughts on what to look for from the blue and orange this season.
While journeying on this countdown, I’ve mentioned the new bosses behind the bench for the New York Islanders in 2017-18 in short order. Today the sole focus shifts to them.
When Doug Weight took over for Jack Capuano as interim head coach in mid-January last year, it felt like a weight had been lifted on the franchises’ shoulders, pardon the pun. Weight brought energy, passion, and gritty play back to the Islanders after it seemed to be missing for almost half a season. Under Weight, the Islanders surged in the second half and just missed out on the playoffs by one point.
Two days after the season ended, the interim tag was taken off of Weight. He was now the head coach of the New York Islanders. Weight wasted no time shaking things up.
Weight said over the summer he spoke to a number of former coaches, general managers and others in the hockey world as he searched to put his staff together. He got over 5,000 games of NHL experience instead. Kelly Buchberger, a former teammate of Weight’s and assistant coach in Edmonton, was the first domino to fall. After Buchberger, Weight tabbed former Binghamton Senators head coach Luke Richardson as an assistant. Richardson was also another former teammate of Weight in the 90’s. But Weight wasn’t done there. He dropped a bombshell when he added 37-year old Scott Gomez to the coaching staff. Gomez, is only two years removed from playing. The last of Weight’s hires was Fred Braithwaite. An unknown name to many, but Braithwaite worked in Germany and was a goaltending consultant to Hockey Canada. Weight also kept long-time Isles assistant Greg Cronin in the mix.
On the first day of camp, Weight handed out the responsibilities this season for his new staff.
Kelly Buchberger was given the reins of the offense and power play. Greg Cronin sticks with the penalty kill, as he’s done for the past few seasons. Luke Richardson is in full charge of the defense, while Scott Gomez will help Buchberger run the power play and be the eye in the sky during games.
So now with the responsibilities handed out among the coaching staff, it will be worth watching how Weight and his assistants pan out in year one.
It was evident last year, that Weight gets the best out of his players. A number of players stepped up during that second half last season because Weight was able to communicate better with them. And also, light a fire under certain guys who needed it. This year, Weight should definitely be more prepared than his first go-around. Weight has already implemented his philosophy and is getting this team in game shape. He’s also showing more faith in his younger players and stepping on toes when need be. By doing those things, Weight will get the best out of his players this season. His ability to motivate and push the needle you could say was missing from the Isles in recent years.
Kelly Buchberger, will definitely be an asset to Weight because of his experience and knowledge. Since he was handed the offense to work with, it will benefit guys like John Tavares and others. Buchberger commands respect, so I’d expect him not only to push the veterans, but stay on top of the rookies. Also, being in charge of the man-advantage, Buchberger has a chance to change the dynamic of the power play. He will have a lot of moving parts to work with to establish consistency.
For Luke Richardson, the Islanders defense struggled mightily in their own zone last year. It’s imperative that Richardson is on top of his d-corps at all times. He’s already gotten praise from a few of the rookies, so he’s off to a good start. Fred Braithwate just needs to fine tune Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss in between the pipes. There’s no third goalie to deal with for Braithwate so it’ll help that his mindset will be on those two.
As for Gomez, it’s all about his age and how he will relate to the guys in the room. Being only 37, Gomez could take on an extra-man type role in the locker room while still being a coach. Mathew Barzal, Josh Ho-Sang, and Anthony Beauvillier should all benefit from Gomez’s tutelage and experience. Gomez helping run the power play should do wonders. As a power-play specialist in his heyday, his knowledge will be key for the forwards.
It’s now a new ballgame for the Islanders with a new coaching staff. This season will reveal a lot about how good these guys are and how the players respond to them. Doug Weight brought these coaches in because they’re winners. And win is what they intend to do.