Islanders General Manager Mike Milbury, a brash, unconventional and impetuous executive widely known as "Mad Mike," made his eighth coaching change in 10 years Thursday. Then he fired himself.
After the Islanders' owner, Charles Wang, announced at a news conference that Coach Steve Stirling had been fired after a 124-game tenure, Wang said Milbury had resigned as the general manager and would become a senior vice president for Wang's sports properties.
"I'm not ready for the funny farm, and I'm not ready to retire," Milbury said. "There's a lot of work with this."
Wang also owns the New York Dragons of the Arena Football League, the Islanders' top minor-league affiliate in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and the team's practice facility in Syosset, New York. He said Milbury would remain the general manager until his replacement was found.
But Wang added that he hoped to have a new general manager by the NHL draft in June and that Brad Shaw, 41, who joined Stirling's staff this season as an assistant, would be the Islanders' interim coach through this season.
So Milbury, who as general manager twice fired himself as the Islanders' coach, has perhaps made his last coaching change. He will help Wang find a new general manager, then will help Wang focus on his efforts to renovate the aging Nassau Coliseum.
"When we have a successor to Mike, he will have more time to work on the process -- which is a blessing," Wang said of the arena project.
Despite Thursday night's 3-2 home victory against the Calgary Flames, the Islanders (19-22-2) have lost eight of their past 10 games. Before Thursday night, they had the worst home attendance in the 30-team NHL, averaging 12,838 fans a game.
Stirling, 56, became the Islanders' coach on June 3, 2003, the day Milbury fired Peter Laviolette, who is now the coach of the Carolina Hurricanes and will coach the US Olympic team next month.
Stirling led the Islanders to a 38-29-11-4 record and their third consecutive playoff berth in his only full season as their coach. But Wang and Milbury said the Islanders, especially center Alexei Yashin, had played far below expectations this season.
"I didn't get much sleep last night thinking about that," Shaw, a former NHL defenseman, said of the circumstances under which he replaced Stirling. "It was tough knowing you had a part in getting a guy out of here who gave you a chance to be an assistant coach at this level."
Milbury said the Islanders were losing too many leads, making too many mistakes and taking too many penalties. A change, or two, needed to be made, he said. Milbury said he had been talking for more than a year to Wang, a computer software billionaire based in Long Island, about leaving the hockey operations and becoming Wang's right-hand man. When Milbury fired Stirling, he decided to change jobs, too.
"I'm not trying to run from anything here," Milbury said.
With financial backing from Wang, Milbury turned the Islanders into a playoff team in 2001-2002 after a seven-season drought by acquiring Yashin, Michael Peca and Chris Osgood. But many moves seemed to backfire.
Wang was asked if he might be interested in replacing Milbury with Brent Sutter, who played 10 seasons for the Islanders and was their captain. Sutter, 43, is the owner, coach and general manager of the Red Deer Rebels, a junior team in the Western Hockey League.