UNIONDALE, N.Y. – Ted Nolan’s return to NHL coaching ended after only two years Monday when he split with the New York Islanders over “philosophical differences” with general manager Garth Snow.
Although there had been a growing rift throughout last season between Nolan and Snow, the somewhat surprising midsummer move was made after a morning meeting at Nassau Coliseum before the opening of a rookie training camp.
“The process for me was something that took a lot of time to come to terms with,” Snow told The Associated Press. “We all know we probably weren’t all on the same page in certain areas.
“It wasn’t going to work if two people aren’t on the same page. That’s why the meeting was healthy because we both realized that there were differences in philosophy.”
After getting the Islanders into the playoffs in 2007, Nolan guided the club to a 35-38-9 finish last season. He finished his New York tenure with a 74-68-21 mark.
“He did some good things for us,” Snow said. “He’s a good person. That first year we snuck into the playoffs … this year, obviously, was a sub-par season.”
Nolan had one season remaining on the deal he signed in 2006, when he and then-GM Neil Smith were hired on the same day. Smith was fired several weeks later and Snow, then the Islanders’ backup goalie, took over as GM.
“I was a little bit surprised, but at the end of the day they made a decision and are moving in a new direction,” starting goalie Rick DiPietro said in a phone interview.
Nolan sought an extension last season, when New York failed to make the playoffs for only the second time in six seasons, but was turned down by team owner Charles Wang. Nolan is expected to be paid for next season.
“There have been philosophical differences and we’ve agreed it’s a good time for me to move on,” Nolan said in a statement released by the team. “I want to thank the Islanders organization for giving me a chance to coach in the NHL again. I have tremendous respect for what the team is trying to do and I wish them well.”
Snow said he had a list of coaching candidates in mind but didn’t plan to make his first phone call until Monday afternoon.
Gerard Gallant, an Islanders assistant, has been an NHL head coach with Columbus and might be considered. Fellow assistants John Chabot and Dan Lacroix are expected to return, Snow said.
Former Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella, who led the Lightning to the Stanley Cup in 2004, and recently fired Toronto Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice are available should Snow seek a higher-profile choice.
Jack Capuano, the coach of the Islanders’ Bridgeport (AHL) affiliate, is likely on the list, too.
Before coming to the Islanders, Nolan hadn’t been in the NHL since 1997, when he was selected as coach of the year while with Buffalo. After that season, he parted ways with the Sabres over a contract dispute and couldn’t get another job.
He spent the next eight years running his own business in Canada and the U.S., and coaching his son’s youth team before returning to professional coaching the season before his Long Island arrival with Moncton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
The 50-year-old Nolan was a finalist for the Islanders’ job in 2001 but lost out to Peter Laviolette, now the coach of the Carolina Hurricanes. Nolan replaced interim coach Brad Shaw, who took over after Steve Stirling was fired in January 2006.
Nolan’s motivating style clicked in his first season with the Islanders, and behind a stirring run behind backup goalie Wade Dubielewicz in the final week, New York clinched the last Eastern Conference playoff spot with a shootout win at New Jersey.
The Islanders couldn’t continue the momentum in the playoffs and were eliminated in five games by top-seeded Buffalo. Last season, a slew of injuries – including to DiPietro – curtailed any chance New York had of returning to the post-season.
Only three NHL teams finished with fewer points than the Islanders.
Nolan and Snow disagreed over the reasons for the disappointing record. Snow said he believed the team was underachieving and had the makeup to be a playoff team again. Nolan felt he didn’t have the necessary personnel to win and took a clear shot at Snow when he said in February, “We don’t have natural 50-goal scorers. We have guys who work for everything they get. That’s the way we play.”
“We disagreed on that,” Snow said Monday. “I thought Bill Guerin and Miro Satan were pretty good goal-scorers. That’s all water under the bridge. It doesn’t do anyone any good now to comment about it, but last summer Ted was in on the process of bringing in free agents.
“There wasn’t a situation where there was a player in that locker room that Ted didn’t want.”
The two clashed over playing time as Nolan often relied on veterans instead of youngsters such as Jeff Tambellini. At this year’s trade deadline, Snow dealt longtime Nolan favourite Chris Simon and said the move helped free up a spot for Tambellini.
“Teams that are successful with the salary cap and the new things in the league have been able to develop talent in their system with good draft picks and have good free agent signings,” DiPietro said. “We have a lot of exciting guys coming in. We need somebody that is going to be able to grow and teach those guys to become NHL players.”
The use of DiPietro and Dubielewicz became a point of contention when DiPietro left the team for a few days following the death of his grandmother. DiPietro was set to return for a home-and-home series against the Rangers, when Snow told him to take an extra day.
Nolan then played Dubielewicz in the second game of the series instead of DiPietro.
DiPietro said that didn’t cause any problems between him and Nolan and didn’t think it created serious issues between the coach and GM.
“There are times there will be disagreements,” he said. “That’s part of being a family and in sports, too.”