In a word, Garth Snow is sticking to his plan. There is something to be said for that, despite the frustrations of this season -- frustrations that for fans are deepened by the uncertainty over the venue in 2015. WebBard made the point last week in his extensive piece on the rebuild that there is still a long way to go, but they were starting from a hole and the key is not to repeat the mistakes of the past. I really (still) believe that, and I couldn't care less if I'm labeled an apologist for it. I just don't see any other way to build something meaningful given the conditions.
Because just like understanding the quality of your team at any moment requires not being duped into thinking a few victories in a row means you've arrived, so too do a few miserable months demand you not lose sight of the long-term goal. The Islanders are basically brewing a bushel of prospects, and we don't know which ones will hit and which ones won't; but until we have a better idea and until some of them prove this team is changing, it's going to be tough to find the right pieces to complement them or accelerate their development, as we saw this summer.
I used to say the toughest part of the rebuild wasn't the beginning -- draft smart and hold your picks/prospects, that's the straightforward part -- but rather the crescendo, when you have to make tough decisions on all the assets you've developed. But these days I wonder if the toughest part is the midpoint -- when you must resist the urge or outside pressure to do something rash to change things when they're not going well still early in the process.
What follows is the Snow Q&A video posted on the Islanders official site over the weekend, with some of the key answers transcribed for those who can't or won't watch the video. It's a few days old, and I sense from comments that several of you saw it. But it occurred to me that many of you didn't, and I'd rather we have a reference point here where the GM's position is known, so that we're not constantly asking the same questions.
(As an aside, I also find the video interesting from a PR In The 21st Century Perspective, but I'll leave those thoughts for the trades, other than to note the backdrop of some of your favorite Isles player jerseys...the GM in team gear rather than a suit...and thankfully no monumental presidential gaffe like hanging a "Mission Accomplished" banner in the background.
Also, they clearly made a point to bring up all the "tough questions" I see or hear come up among fans -- seriously, we can debate Snow's answers, of course but they didn't ignore the questions of frustrated fans.)
Again, I've transcribed some segments I think are worth noting either for facts or for Snow's position on them, but I didn't transcribe them all. I've also paraphrased or even completely and snarkishly shortened the questions. With some transcriptions, I gave my own opinion afterward.
I didn't transcribe the segment about Josh Bailey, but essentially he was sent down in part because of the 160-game/waiver threshold, and they wanted to see him respond to the challenge, show he's a point producer, learn about himself by handling this adversity -- so far, so good -- and no, there is no set timetable for when he'll return.
Garth Snow Q&A with Fan Questions [video]
I Want Better Stuff. Why Can't We Have Better Stuff?
Snow: "We've looked at different options on the trade front, nothing has made sense. And I'm going to keep saying it until I turn blue: We're not going to move any of our young core players. I'm not going to move any of our top prospects. I'm definitely not going to move our top draft picks."
Personal view: I put this one first, because obviously from my paragraphs above it's what I believe. I'm sure there have been missed opportunities to add players, but ultimately it's hard to make trades in this league -- especially if you're hoping, as fans always do, to "win" those trades. If you don't like the Islanders current tradeable roster players, then chances are a rival GM doesn't either. And that leaves...picks and prospects, which is a non-starter.
Snow on Lingering Off-Ice Topics (i.e. Trottier, Jaffe, Jankowski...)
Snow: "My policy, for me, I'm never going to make comments on former employees, whether that person is terminated or not resigned or extended. I see no upside in that. For me, it's something I like to keep between myself and that person, and the four walls."
Personal view: As a fan, I don't like this -- I want info, info, info -- but as an observer of the league I can respect the "that's between me and that person" part. Some fans think this is an Islanders thing, but teams in this league just don't talk about staff personnel changes. Maybe it's because I follow two teams closely, but I frequently see staff changes by franchises based on evaluations (or other issues) they're simply not going to share. It's like with firing coaches, which is where you'll get the most media meat because it's the most relevant to the team: Even then, you don't publicly go into a coach's failings when you dump him, as being removed is publicly aired trauma enough.
Likewise, no former employee of prominence has aired resentment about the team; I trust they see no "upside" to it as well, so this is generally how things go in the tight-circled NHL. Best you get is whispers through media -- all of which is subject to the agenda of the anonymous source, of course. (On that note, the Billy Jaffe one is toughest to peg because it involves a fan favorite whose fate could have turned by somewhere inside the organization or by a third party, the cable partner MSG.)
If Building within is the Route, Why no Jankowski Replacement?
Snow: "I think people don't recognize the staff that we have on board. If you go to newyorkislanders.com, you can go to the directory and see all the scouts that we have. The one thing I've found over the course of the last few drafts as I get more involved on a one-on-one basis -- not only the regional scouts but the birddogs who are in the trenches on a day-to-day basis: I've built a staff that I'm very proud of, and if you look at our drafts the past few years, they've rated right at the top of the league. So we'll continue to scout in the fashion that we have, because we've had success doing it this way."
Personal view: I hear competing views on this all the time, from insiders and outsiders, and I'm powerless to evaluate it. Jankowski was obviously the public face of a larger operation. Scouting allocation seems to be evolving on a few different paths around the league. The proof for the Isles will be in how well their picks turn out, period.
The Building, and 2015
Snow: "For me, as a general manager, it has no effect on what I do on a day-to-day basis... [note: There's more...I didn't transcribe it all. Snow did also mention the $250k upgrade to the locker room over the summer.] That being said, we definitely need a new building." [From the 12/11 press conference when the Nordique fans invaded: "We're here through 2015. We're gonna honor the lease. I know we're not going to play one day longer than we have to in this arena."
Personal view: This lease and "not one day longer than we have to" talk is obviously an established talking point for the organization. The uncertainty is, I think, what is unsettling a lot of fans more than any other factor. Because the subtext is the team will be somewhere...currently unknown.
This is where Wang needs to step up and address the topic more frequently. It's conceivable that Wang is working on alternatives behind the scenes, the leak of details of which could jeopardize those alternatives. But even if that's the case, Wang should be throwing fans a bone more frequently to reassure them. Take a page from Ted Leonsis.
What's the Mood of the Team?
(I know which LHH member this question came from.)
Snow: "I'm pissed off. No one likes losing. We're doing what we can as a staff, as an organization, as a team, to turn this ship around and start winning."
Why Bother Following This Season?
A fan asked why fans should keep showing up, given how the season has gone...
Snow: "Well, as tough as this season has been, whether it's the injury factor, the losing -- we are a young team that competes at a very high level. There's nothing better than when you have a situation where you get to the point of winning and competing for a Stanley Cup but you've been through the lean years, through the tough times, it makes it that much more rewarding.
"Right now, I admit it, we're going through some tough times. But it's always fun to be a part of it right from the start and watching players grow right before you're eyes is a special feeling.
"For me, even thinking about where we are now and where we're going, it gives me a sense of...--it gives me goose bumps. I know we're on the right track. I know it's tough right now where we are in the standings, but we have a plan and we're sticking to it."
Sadly, this is true, and I suspect it's why it keeps die-hard fans in the fold: The peaks do feel all the sweeter when you've been through the troughs. But this is also why fans are shaken: With uncertainty surrounding 2015, we are now at the point where fans don't know if the team will still be around for that payoff. This is where, again, more signals from Wang would be huge.
I've been impressed by fans' patience with the rebuild process. Around this site, it's been fun that so many are willing to talk soberly about the team even amid a 1-win-in-21 streak. But lurking in the background is a ticking clock that unsettles everyone -- and it has much less to do with what's on the ice than where that ice will be located.