New York Islanders GM Garth Snow said Tuesday there wasn't one defining moment in his decision to lift the interim tag from Jack Capuano's job description and officially name him the coach of the team for the 2011-12 season.
Instead, it was how the demeanor of the players changed in the days and weeks after Capuano took over for Scott Gordon on Nov. 15 and how the team performed in the second half even in the face of significant injuries.
"There was not one particular moment by any means, but when you're around the team on a day-to-day basis and you see the confidence the players display not only in games but practices, it was really a fun team to be around from December on," Snow said during a conference call. "Despite the injuries that we had to key players, the guys played at an extremely high level."
Capuano led the Islanders to a 25-21-8 record over their final 54 games and a 15-12-6 mark after the All-Star break. He finished with a 26-29-10 record overall. Previously, Capuano served as coach of the Islanders' AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, leading them to a 133-100-8-14 career mark.
"I think first of all, you come in and you don't want to change a whole lot right away," Capuano said. "It was an easy transition because I had most of these guys in Bridgeport and felt I could get the maximum potential out of these guys. In the second half we did that. I didn't once ever really think of the future. My goal was to move forward, try to win hockey games and get the team into the postseason."
Significant injuries, including ones that kept young forward Kyle Okposo sidelined for the first half and caused top defenseman Mark Streit to miss the entire season, played a major role in Gordon being fired with a 4-10-3 record and helped prevent the Islanders from reaching Capuano's goal of making the playoffs, although they stayed on the periphery of the chase into the final weeks of the season.
Under Capuano's watch, Michael Grabner developed into a top scorer, leading the team and all NHL rookies with 34 goals. John Tavares continued his progress, leading the team with 67 points in his second NHL season. After being acquired via trade, Al Montoya solidified a shaky goaltending situation by going 9-5-5 down the stretch with a 2.39 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.
"They started to believe in each other and learn how to win and play as a group," Capuano said. "It was fun to watch and see those guys come together and have success in the second half."
Snow wants to see that success carry over into next season and the Islanders end a streak that has seen them finish at the bottom of the Atlantic Division and out of the playoffs each of the last four seasons. He believes the right man to lead the franchise's resurgence was already behind the bench.
"He's done an excellent job," Snow said. "I think he's the right coach for this team. Anyone's who watched our season, it was almost a tale of two seasons and Jack had a big role in getting the best out of this group."
Capuano has been around the Islanders during past training camps, but this September he'll be running the show as coach for the first time.
"I always run my camps the same way. I think they're pretty demanding," Capuano said. "I don't know what's happened in the past, but expectations for conditioning will be high. At our exit meetings we dictated what the players have to do on the ice and off the ice to come into camp in the best shape possible. Our camp will be demanding, but it will also be structured and get into our system play right away."
Snow would not disclose terms of the new contract for Capuano, a native of Cranston, R.I., who planned on looking for a place closer to Long Island now that he has a little more job stability.
"There's a good possibility of that, for sure," Capuano said. "It's obviously been a rewarding day for me, and with the sacrifices I made personally with my family, I think that'll be the next step that I take."