I know interviews are generally popular, so I'll try to do them whenever I can -- it's just my schedule often prevents arranging times in advance. Example: I had the chance to talk to Islanders GM Garth Snow the day before the coaching change but couldn't get myself free. By the time we could connect again, all that had hit the fan and Snow had already made the media rounds, from the initial conference call to this interview on the Fan 590 in Toronto (which is a comprehensive listen for Snow's thoughts on that topic).
So Scott Gordon's removal came up in our conversation, but since I only had a few minutes to chat, I dug up a few general and process questions that were on my mind before the weekend news. To make this (hopefully) more worthwhile I've added some context to a few of the question and answers. I figure the blogging format invites a little flexibility and general tangent-chasing.
LHH: First, I know it's been a busy weekend, but I had a general philosophical question in mind before the coaching change: You're a GM who was recently a player. When a team is struggling like this, and different individuals aren't performing as they'd like, do you ever get involved and talk to them, or do you try to stay out of it and leave it to the coaching staff?
Snow: "I definitely talk to the players. Whether its a goaltender I talk to about how to play a particular scoring chance, or how to handle a 2-on-1 or play from the corner...or even if it's a goal scorer, I might talk to him about options on a scoring chance, and what is difficult for a goalie that he may not realize is difficult for a goalie.
"It's always a free flow of info and conversation here. It might be just over a cup of coffee, or after practice, or while a player is taping his stick -- it doesn't have to be two chairs and a desk.
"And it's no different from if Eric Cairns is in, or any number of the alumni we have around who can talk to the players. We encourage that. It's always fun to see Islanders alumni interact with the players."
LHH Note: This is not why I asked this, but part of Snow's answer brings up a favorite hockey topic of mine: If you still play and particularly if you are a forward, try strapping on the goalie pads if at all possible. I've been a shooting forward most of my life, but I will play goalie in our pickup games every now and then (usually when all our emergency keepers are off being crazy goalies elsewhere), and the different perspective you get on the game is incredible. On our tiny little rec level, you understand both shooting and goaltending from the opposite perspective, and it helps you with both. Plus, if you really love this game, a little biomechanical understanding will give you more to think about next time you scream "OMG How did he not stop/finish that!?"
LHH: And then when you're in a situation where you might make a coaching move, do all of those conversations with players help you gauge what's working or not working? Does that enter your mind?
Snow: "No, that's not a subject for me to go into with them, they're not that kind of conversations. At the end of the day, we'd lost 10 games in a row and needed to make a change. I also recognize we were in a tough stretch with 10 of 12 games on the road and the injuries we've had. It was a sad day, because Scott's a good friend and he's an excellent coach. But it was time to make a change."
LHH Note: I always wonder about that topic because it would be one to tread carefully as a GM. So I had to ask. I'm sure you need to use every clue you can find to assess how the relationship is working between coach and player. But you don't exactly want to go around your coach and undermine him, and you don't want to give underperforming players the idea that if they're tired of doing their homework, they can always complain and get the teacher fired.
LHH: Another general question I had in the hopper: You have busy times of the year in the summer and at the trading deadline. This time of the year, coaching move aside, is this when you start planning contract extensions? I know there have been a couple extension announcements around the league recently, so I wondered if this is the time before it gets busy.
Snow: "No, those conversations I have whenever I speak to a particular agent who represents our players -- and there aren't really any of those conversations happening right now. A lot is determined by the CBA, I'm sure you know, where guys on ELCs cannot re-sign until July, and veterans [on one-year deals] cannot extend until January."
LHH: Do you like those CBA rules, where it's a little more concrete when a new contract can be entered? I just think of the old days when you'd have holdouts in training camp or the fall, so from the outside view, this process is a lot clearer.
Snow: "I like the way it is now. It works. I know there are varying opinions about it, and I know there are some GMs who would rather it all have to be after the season is over, but this works fine.
"You mention holdouts. Right now the biggest issue we face like that is when a player is injured in camp and out for most of the year, like we've had. That affects the existing roster and also the player if they have a contract coming. But when I was a player, if a player was holding out it was a drag on the players who are in camp, wondering 'When will he be here?' and then in my experience, players who did that took longer to get back up to speed once they reported."
LHH Note: If you can't tell by my question, I could not be happier that the current CBA outlawed renegotiations. Nothing worse than talking contract squabbles while the season is in progress.
LHH: Almost buried over the weekend was the news of Dylan Reese's recall. Was that just injury/illness insurance, or is their more to it?
Snow: "He practiced yesterday and today with us. We don't know if Jack Hillen [concussion] will be ready to go [Wednesday]."
LHH: And a decision like that, did you ask Jack Capuano on his way up, or how is that normally handled?
Snow: "Yeah, we sought feedback from Jack. In the past Scott and I would talk it over and we'd ask Jack, 'Who's your best defenseman now?' and make a decision. Now, if it's a forward that might be different, because it might be for a specific role like a penalty killer or something like that. But that's all part of the free flowing conversation."
LHH: Unfortunately, I have to be the one to cut this short, but a final question: What's your immediate charge for Jack Capuano?
Snow: "Two points tomorrow night. We're just focused on that game first. We need to get our swagger back, regain our confidence, and be the team that we were at the beginning of the season."