Doug Weight, the New York Islanders' interim coach, always was a thinker and a talker, even way back when he was a kid playing hockey and his father gave him some sage advice that still resonates with him today.
"My dad said things are going to go good and they're going to go bad. Pucks are going to go in and they're not. Just make sure, when the coach looks down and sees your number, he thinks, 'I trust him and I want to put him back out there.'
"To be honest, I feel that way about most every guy in our room. I want to inspire them and I want them to inspire me … and keep everybody upbeat and believing."
Weight is relatively new to this NHL head-coaching gig. He took over from Jack Capuano behind the Islanders bench on Jan. 17, with the team sitting in the NHL's Eastern Conference basement, eight points out of playoff contention. In 19 games since then, the Islanders are 13-6-3 and were holding on to the final playoff spot, just ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs, heading into Tuesday's date with the Edmonton Oilers.
Weight, an American from Warren, Mich., cut his playing teeth with the Oilers. He played in Edmonton for eight-and-a-half seasons and eventually became the 10th captain in team history, no small achievement in an organization where the fourth, fifth and sixth captains were named Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Kevin Lowe, respectively.
On the ice, Weight was known as a consummate play maker – 755 of his career 1,033 points were assists. Statistically, his career topped out with an impressive 104-point season in 1995-96, a decade before he won the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2005-06 over – who else? – Edmonton.
Off the ice, Weight was a consummate communicator and it is this skill – transparent, detailed and open straight talk, mixed in with a little good humour – that helped the Islanders emerge from their first-half funk and start winning more consistently.
"I learned a lot from our previous coach," Weight said. "Jack's a great friend. Preparation is a key for me and I learned that from him. There is a certain way I handle each guy and the way I handle the bench that I believe can be beneficial to us over the course of a season. It's key to have 24 guys who think they have a relevant role and that they're important – and it's also key that it's not a mirage.
"It's not that I'm any bit of a guru, but I feel like being on the bench and knowing what I felt as a player has helped me tremendously as far as dealing with these guys."
Weight was previously an assistant under Capuano and also has a front-office role in the organization as an assistant to general manager Garth Snow. He started with the Islanders once his 19-year NHL career ended in 2011, so he's been there through some lean years and then some better ones of late (New York has been in the playoffs three of the past four years).
For some retired players, the last thing they want to do is coach, because coaching obliges you to be all-in – a 24-hour, seven-day commitment that can put stress and strain on body, soul, mind.
"I was lucky," Weight said. "Full disclosure, what drew me in was a phone call that asked me if I would do it. I was an assistant coach and an assistant GM, so I had two great bosses who trusted me and empowered me with decisions. So I've learned both sides.
"I've concentrated on, if I was ever a coach, how would I do things? And I kept logs that way. I've tried to study that because I still love the game. I played it for 20 years. So you think about what you're going to do. Open a restaurant? Go back to business school? I thought to myself, 'I love this game so much,' and I still have the passion – to win or to lose. When you lose, you're just as mad as when you were playing. I think that's important.
"It's a great challenge, but as long as you have the passion and the belief in what you're doing, it's a great thing to come to work."
But the role of assistant coach is far different than being the man in charge, something Weight understood intuitively.
"I believe that in the dressing room, we're a confident team with great leadership and we believe we're a playoff team," he said. "To be 11 or 12 points out five or six weeks ago, it was disparaging. It was disheartening. It was a slap in the face that it had to come to the firing of a coach.
"I think those things wake teams up. But ultimately, in this league, if you don't do it on the ice and dig in and work for each other, the results aren't going to change for a consistent period of time."