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Firing of Jack Capuano has everything to do with keeping John Tavares

Scott Burnside and Joe McDonald discuss whether firing coach Jack Capuano was the right move for the New York Islanders.

Burnside: This is so New York Islanders. General manager Garth Snow waits until the Islanders come up with a rare victory, beating the Boston Bruins 4-0 on Monday, before firing coach Jack Capuano and replacing him with jack-of-all trades Doug Weight. Go figure. But this has always been a franchise that has, at least under Snow, done things backward. Sure, it would have been hard to fire Capuano after the team won its first playoff series since 1993 last spring, beating the Florida Panthers in six games. But let’s be honest, the Isles were the second-best team in that series and got lucky with Roberto Luongo being a bit off, the Panthers being banged up and benefiting from some shoddy officiating. Then, Snow rejigs the lineup, allowing Matt Martin, Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen to leave, replacing them with Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera; Jaroslav Halak is in the minors after being in the finals of the World Cup of Hockey; and the Islanders are in last place in the Eastern Conference. So was this an issue of a GM firing a coach to take heat off himself, or is this a team that might actually rebound with a new voice behind the bench?

McDonald: It would be unusual to fire a GM during the season. But in order to fix what's wrong with the Islanders, Snow should be on the hot seat. Capuano got the most out of what was given him by his boss, so the team’s lack of success starts with the front office. When the new ownership, led by Jon Ledecky, took over last summer, the organization said it was dedicated to winning a Stanley Cup. Captain John Tavares said he would wait and see how invested the owners were in making it work in Brooklyn, but there are too many things wrong to point the finger at Capuano. In a recent trip to Boston, most players said off the record that they supported their coach. Changes are needed and it shouldn’t end with Capuano.

Burnside: You mentioned the one name that is central to all this: John Tavares. Credit Snow for getting Tavares to buy in to the Islander plan when he signed his last deal at a very team-friendly salary. But with the captain’s contract set to expire at the end of the 2017-18 season and with this season pretty much a lost cause, you've got to wonder how Tavares truly views his future with the team. And with new ownership just nicely at the helm, they have to be in at least minor panic mode that their one true star doesn’t see a future with the franchise. Would you be looking to sign on long term with the team the way it is now, Joe? Not me. Someone familiar with the team today suggested to me the move to install Doug Weight as interim head coach has much to do with Tavares. Weight is well-respected within the room and around the NHL. He’s a pro’s pro and my guess is the team will respond to Weight. And that is going to be key to keeping Tavares committed to this team long-term. In short, this is a move that isn’t necessarily about sneaking back into the playoff picture, but about proving to Tavares that there’s a reason to stick around. The problem is it might be too late. What’s your gut tell you about Tavares’ future with the Islanders?

McDonald: Scotty, I honestly don’t see how Tavares remains an Islander with the organization in this much disarray. More changes need to be made for the Islanders to become serious Stanley Cup contenders. Unless Tavares is given the ability to hire the next coach, the captain is all but gone. Plenty of teams would give him what he wants in the way of a contract in order to acquire his services. The Toronto Maple Leafs would be a great spot for Tavares. The team isn’t far off from being a serious Cup contender and you know he would welcome the challenge of bringing a championship back to his hometown team. Snow said during his conference call on Tuesday that he spoke with those involved and hinted that Tavares was part of the group discussion, which makes total sense. Now, we’ll have to see who makes the decision on the next bench boss. If that person does not conform with Tavares’ insights and philosophy, then it will be another major step backward for the Islanders.