What, or Who, is Maine Waiting For?
by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer
Tim Whitehead was relieved of his duties as head coach at the University of Maine on April 9. In the weeks since, not only has Maine director of athletics Steve Abbott yet hire his successor, but a prominent former player, Jim Montgomery, took the head coaching job at Denver, the university named Bob Corkum its interim head coach and Corkum, through university staffers, penned a not-so-cryptic open letter to Maine hockey fans that not-so-politely separated himself from Whitehead.
The last six weeks have left many in Orono scratching their heads, wondering what exactly is happening to the state’s crown athletic jewel, a program that was at one time, the envy of college hockey, past scandals aside.
But perhaps Abbott has another power play in mind?
According to a story in Monday’s Bangor Daily News, Abbott will likely name a successor next week. The paper goes on to cite sources reporting that UNH assistant Jim Tortorella, Yale assistant Red Gendron and former Ohio State coach Mark Osiecki are all candidates along with Corkum.
Then there’s rumblings that Abbott would like to woo New York Islanders head coach Jack Capuano, a Maine alum, back to Orono to run the hockey program. Given the Islanders’ success this past season, making the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2007, on paper, it appears to be a long shot. But according to two sources, there have been overtures made and while Islanders’ majority owner Charles Wang would be smart to ink his head coach to a contract extension after the success the team enjoyed this season, nothing is certain. Not with the Islanders.
When it comes to players, Wang is on the hook for millions to guys not even in the NHL. Rick DiPietro was demoted to the AHL this season and was still among the highest-paid goaltenders, and Alexei Yashin hasn’t played a minute in the league for six seasons yet the Islanders still owe him $2.2 million per year for two more seasons after this one.
Meanwhile, or perhaps because of those mistakes, he’s notoriously cheap when it comes to spreading the wealth to his personnel. According to the same two sources, Capuano is the lowest paid coach in the league.
Still though, a jump for Capuano from the NHL to Maine would surely come with a pay cut, at least in the short term; Whitehead was making around $200,000 in his final years. But with Capuano’s pedigree in Orono, if he has success, he could be there for life. In the NHL, you’re always one six-game losing streak away from getting fired.
Maybe this isn’t that far-fetched after all.
If Abbott’s plan was to elevate Corkum to the permanent position, that’s something that could have happened by now. This delay, which has watched three other programs all hire head coaches, has to be for good reason. Could that reason be that Capuano’s Islanders, until last week, were battling the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup playoffs?
Does Wang simply see this as a way to get out of giving his head coach a deserved raise? After all, this is a guy who once fired his general manager — for reportedly not adhering to his “management by committee” style — and then promoted his backup goalie to run the franchise.
New York Newsday reported in April that it’s widely believed that Capuano’s contract with the Islanders expires at the end of this season, though the coach and GM Garth Snow (also a Maine graduate, for what it's worth) refused to comment on his deal.
(As noted in the comments, also, Capuano's daughter attends Maine and his son is set to play baseball there starting next school year. Ed.)
For Maine, it’s not only a hire that will generate some much needed buzz, but they’d be acquiring a terrific head coach. For Wang, this is his out. Capuano returning to Maine frees up Wang to pluck the next great AHL coach, for a fraction of a typical NHL salary, to run his bench.
If not, then what's the hold up?