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Garth’s next boss: What does a team president actually do?

Firing Jack Capuano is only the first step in the Islanders’ restructuring. Next might be a person to oversee the whole operation.

2015 NHL Draft - Round One
Hm.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Islanders’ firing of Jack Capuano has, rightfully, put more even focus on the guy who did the firing, Garth Snow.

The GM constructed the team’s current roster from top to bottom, including some real head-scratching decisions like letting Kyle Okposo walk away, dragging his feet on signing Frans Nielsen, waiving P.A. Parenteau, keeping three goalies on the roster for a year and a half, and breaking camp with two rookies only to see one get playing time and one go back to junior after two games played. It’s all added up to a roster of mismatched parts still trying to find the slightest sign of chemistry.

Even before Capuano’s surprise post-win firing, word was out that Snow’s job description might be changing. After 10 years of almost complete autonomy at the top of the team’s food chain, Newsday’s Arthur Staple reported in early December that the Islanders were searching for a “big name” to take over a president’s role above Snow. Names included former general managers, agents, hockey legends and Islanders alumni.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and TSN’s Bob McKenzie have also corroborated the report and added some tidbits and other names in the intervening months. Not all of the names were up for the job (or even candidates), but the idea was that Islanders owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin wanted to gather all of the information they could on what was expected from an NHL team from folks that had been in the league longer than they have.

Now in the wake of Capuano’s firing, the question becomes: what exactly does a Team President even do and how does it affect Garth Snow’s future with the club?

In a totally non-comprehensive, half-assed bit of research, I have come to the determination that what the president does depends on what team we’re talking about.

Here’s a list of NHL team presidents as of now. In a few cases - Snow being one - the GM is also the president. David Poile, Dean Lombardi and Doug Armstrong also pull double duty.

But not every team president has a say in how the organization is built and run on the ice. David Morehouse has been the Penguins’ team president since 2007, and handles the marketing, branding, youth hockey initiatives, community outreach, television coverage and bunch of other things unrelated to who’s skating next to Sidney Crosby. Russ Brandon is the president of both the Sabres and Buffalo Bills and also oversees the business end of things.

Columbus actually has two presidents. The one you know is former Rangers goalie and broadcaster John Davidson, whose official title is President of Hockey Operations/Alternate Governor. Davidson works closely with GM Jarmo Kekalainen and directly helped hire coach John Tortorella. The Blue Jackets’ other president is Mike Priest, who is called the team’s “top business executive” in his bio and “oversees all aspects of the franchise operations.” That sounds like a big job, but he probably leaves the roster up to JD and his hockey ops guys.

Brian Burke has been the Flames’ president of hockey operations since 2013 and Ken King has been the team’s president and CEO forever. Both do a lot of talking on the team’s behalf, and seem to have at least some input into how GM Brad Treliving does things. Cam Neely, the Bruins president and alternate governor, “oversees all of the club's hockey and business operations” and clearly makes decisions alongside GM Don Sweeney.

From what Staple, McKenzie and Friedman have reported, it sounds like Ledecky and Malkin might be looking for someone in the mold of Brendan Shanahan. The former winger was named the Maple Leafs president and alternate governor in April of 2014 and has gone about building out the team’s front office with stats-focused talent like assistant GM Kyle Dubas and old school hockey minds like actual GM Lou Lamoriello.

Our friends at Pension Plan Puppets were unsure of how Shananan would do in the job, since he had no experience running a team at any level to that point. Three years later, they probably feel a lot better about the direction of the franchise (having Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner helps, too).

In a report for NBC Sports after Capuano’s firing on Tuesday, McKenzie said that who the owners hire and what their actual position is will determine much of the Islanders’ future, including that of captain and soon-to-be-free agent John Tavares. Ledecky and Malkin continue to talk to “everybody in the hockey world” and search for “a model that works for them.” Whoever ultimately does end up coaching the team would be hired based on a collaboration between the prospective president, ownership and Snow. So that first decision is the most important one.

In his reports, Friedman has said that some of the folks Ledecky and Malkin have talked to are wary of stepping into a situation in which they’d be the boss of a guy who’s been in his seat for over a decade. And that’s kind of a major problem.

With the trade deadline a month and a half away, the owners may be trying to give Snow one last shot at redemption. But the most fair decision might have been to let Snow go along with Capuano and let a new president start fresh. Of course, that would be easier to do if they had already hired said president, but it doesn’t look like they’re ready to do that just yet. Shanahan fired GM Dave Nonis and interim head coach Peter Horachek a year after taking over the Leafs so you never know.

Still, leaving the guy who created the mess in charge of fixing it isn’t encouraging.

Right now, in last place in the conference and with an interim coach in Doug Weight, everyone in the Islanders organization is under the microscope. Who’s squinting into that microscope is going to be of the utmost importance.