In a season that has seen Hoistgate, holdouts, and horrible
hockey, it seemed the Islanders at least had some hope for the
future in new coach Bill Stewart, who has righted the sinking
ship and made the team respectable the last few weeks.
Now it turns out that Stewart may not stick around long enough to
finish the job.
Though Stewart led the Isles to a 6-9-6 record in his first 21
games, 17 against playoff teams, he may not want to continue if
the Islanders ownership doesn't show a commitment to winning.
Stewart, 41, hasn't made any strong comments either way, but
after GM Mike Milbury gave him a vote of confidence for next
season, Stewart said cryptically, "We'll see where we go."
The New York Post has reported that Stewart has told a friend he
will not come back to the Isles next season unless he knows
management and ownership are committed to winning, committed to
spending some money in the off-season.
If Stewart leaves the Isles, it will cast a greater cloud over
the floundering franchise, but he will no doubt land on his feet.
After winning the AHL Coach of the Year last season with the St.
John Flames, Stewart was offered the job in Florida last summer
before Calgary demanded a first-round pick as compensation.
According to sources, when Stewart was promoted from assistant
Jan. 21, Stewart and president David Seldin agreed to meet again
in two months to discuss his future. Stewart apparently made
this promise on a handshake.
Initial reports emanating from the organization that Stewart
received a raise to $240,000 were greatly exaggerated. That
figure still would've made Stewart the lowest-paid coach in the
league, below Calgary's Brian Sutter ($278,000).
However, New York papers are reporting that the Islanders were
only willing to bump Stewart from his $120,000 assistant's salary
to a pro-rated $140,000. Stewart has refused to publicly comment
on his salary.
But salary is not the main issue as Stewart decided whether to
stay with the Isles, but the question of whether New York Sports
Ventures is willing to make the effort to putting a winning team
on the ice.
Certain, Stewart has shown he can coach in the NHL. The team he
inherited was in an 0-10-1 slide, and the Isles have been
competitive against the league's elite teams, Dallas, New Jersey,
and Philadelphia, in recent games.
Whether Stewart will get the chance to show what he can do with a
full season is, it appears, up to him.
Trade rumors are swirling around the Isles. The only
untouchables, according to GM Mike Milbury, are defensemen Kenny
Jonsson, Eric Brewer, and Zdeno Chara. Yes, he didn't mention
Ziggy Palffy. But don't expect to see Palffy dealt, not when
he's locked up in a relatively affordable contract. The
following players, however, shouldn't be buying any Long Island
homes in the next two weeks, as some or all of them might be
moved: Trevor Linden, Robert Reichel, Bryan Smolinski, Mariusz
Czerkawski, Craig Janney, and Tommy Salo.
Another year of rebuilding lies ahead, it seems.