New York Islanders Owner Charles Wang Speaks Out on Contracts, Coach

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New York Islanders Owner Charles Wang Speaks Out on Contracts, Coach
Charles Wang spent the last days of his hockey club's season opening up to the media about the status of his head coach. On one occasion, he said exactly the right things. On another, his words may have been better left unsaid.

During the broadcast of last Thursday's home finale, Wang appeared in a taped interview with play-by-play man Howie Rose. Among other topics, the owner of the Islanders opened up on his feelings about the season, the progress of the Lighthouse Project, and the team's development philosophy.

When asked about the uncertainty surrounding head coach Ted Nolan as he enters the final year of his three-year contract, Wang held fast to his beliefs. He told Rose that Nolan's contract situation was an internal matter that he was not inclined to discuss in public.

Regarding the question of whether Nolan should receive an extension before his current deal runs out, or at least an indication that an extension may be forthcoming, Wang firmly stated that all contracts have a final year; if not, there's no point in having a contract.

Wang is correct in taking both of these positions. While the media may feel it is their job to ask these questions, ownership and management are under no obligation to answer them. Discussing such matters publicly undermines the internal processes that a club uses to evaluate its staff. When you consider that Nolan has an entire year left on his contract, expecting Wang to comment on a possible extension now is unrealistic.

Furthermore, the expectation of an extension at this point is premature. Yes, Wang could add a perceived measure of stability to the Islanders by signing Nolan on for two to three more years right now. However, it is not unreasonable for an employer to require an employee to fulfill his commitment before receiving another contract.

The argument for extending now is that Nolan enters the 2008-09 season as a lame duck. If this were any other coach, that might be a problem. But when NHL players are surveyed, Nolan's name often lands at or near the top of the list of coaches for whom they would most like to play. Nolan is not likely to lose the locker room simply because his status for the following season is unsettled.

If there is a worry, it is that the pressure of trying to earn his keep will affect his decision making. The decisions of a coach may very greatly depending on whose future is foremost in his mind: the organization's or his own.

In his term with the Islanders, Nolan has presented himself with impeccable professionalism. He has also earned a reputation for sticking with veterans to a fault. It is on this issue where Wang took his misstep. In talking to Greg Logan of Newsday, who was instrumental in sparking the public discussion of the coach's future, Wang called for Nolan to learn from his mistakes:

The best thing about this non-playoff season, in Wang's view, was the prospects' performance. "If you look at what has happened - and it certainly has changed in the last two months or so - they've proven him wrong," the owner said of Nolan.

"We all may have a predetermined way of looking at something. But what we should do after the season is look in the mirror and say, 'What have I learned from this thing?'"

Wang's point about Nolan being wrong has merit, but stating it in public seems like an unusual way to foster harmony within the organization.

Logan also noted that Nolan has expressed concern about the team's commitment to him by leaving him with only a year and no promises beyond that. Of course, Nolan should remember that it was Wang who surprisingly dismissed Peter Laviolette after the 2002-03 season when Laviolette seemed to have all the security he needed. Thus, a perceived measure of stability may still suffer from the harshness of reality.

In the end, Nolan certainly deserves the chance to return for the final year of his contract and demonstrate why his term should continue. The Islanders, in turn, reserve the right to a longer period of evaluation before they make decisions about leadership that will be in place for the 2009-10 season.

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