2006-06-16 / Sports

Isles New GM, Coach Hirings Are The Right Moves

By Joe McDonald Sports Columnist

In a gala press conference held at the Long Island Marriott, Islander owner Charles Wang wanted to a grand party to kick off a new era in his franchise's history.

He succeeded in all ways. By hiring general manager Neil Smith and coach Ted Nolan, Wang gave second chances to hockey men wanting to prove they still belong in the NHL. But also he employed probably the best men for the job.

"My goal was to put together a team of people that would work together to continue the efforts made already to bring the Stanley Cup to Long Island," Wang said and added that Smith and Nolan will join former Islander greats Bryan Trottier and Pat LaFontaine as part of a board of advisers running the team, answering to the owner.

It remains to be seen if this system by committee works or not, but Wang passed the first hurdle by getting the right people in place.

Smith, 51, is the former architect of the New York Rangers 1994 Stanley Cup Champions. After building the team to its pinnacle, the Blueshirts started to flounder through a series of bad drafts and future draining acquisitions. The GM admitted that he may have over-traded the Rangers - he did 100 trades in 11 years - but, now older, wiser, and five seasons removed, wants another shot to prove himself.

"You don't get a chance to look in the mirror too much when you are on the treadmill," Smith said. "I am much more sure of myself now because I am older. This [job] doesn't make me nervous; it makes me excited wanting to do it."

As the general manager gets to work, he will be blending his skills with Nolan's. Smith had no say in the coach's hiring, but said he was very comfortable working with the former Sabres' bench minder.

And what's not to like about the coach? Even with all the off-ice whispers, Nolan is a proven winning manager, who won the Jack Adam Award for coach of the year in 1996-97. The Ontario native is known for being able to draw the most out of the talent given to him, which is something the Islanders seem to need. And his offensive style will blend in very well in the New NHL.

"If I had to coach a trapping system, I wouldn't know how to do it," quipped Nolan, but he added, "The way we are going to play is a high energy game with some of the young kids coming in. We have some good young players coming in."

During his time away from hockey, Nolan - who is of Ojibway Indian decent - championed himself to First Nations causes. After being resigned to the fact he would not be coaching again, the 48 year-old received the call last year to coach from the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and lead them to the finals of the Memorial Cup with a 52-15-0-2 record.

"A great chain of events happened. If I didn't go to Moncton, I wouldn't be here," Nolan said. "I wanted to coach one more time and [Moncton] stroked the fire again. Deep down inside, I missed coaching."

The two men will be joining Trottier and LaFontaine, in the Islander front office. The 49 year-old Trottier will be working with the organization's young prospects as Executive Director of Player Development, while LaFontaine, 41, will be Senior Advisor to Wang.

Even though some doubters question the ability to run an organization by committee, the deep drive of all these men may just will it to succeed.

"I am hungry and have something to prove, as Neil is hungry and has something to prove," Nolan said. "So, I think we can work together."

If they do, Wang's vision is already a success.

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