The Islanders first post lock out season was a disappointment, the team failed to qualify for the post season for the first time since Charles Wang bought the squad, bringing major changes within the front office. Gone was Steve Sterling, replaced with a former Jack Adams winner blacklisted for mysterious reasons, Ted Nolan, an unconventional, but intriguing hire. The Islanders also parted ways with a man seemingly determined to destroy the franchise, Mike Millbury, a hot headed buffoon and future assailant of pee-wee hockey players. This brought unheralded joy to Islanders fans everywhere, however spirits were dampened a little bit with the announcement of his replacement, former Rangers architect Neil Smith. Despite a connection that left a bitter taste in the mouth of Islander fans "Big Deal Neil" proved competent in his early days on the job. He drafted Kyle Okposo, a big bodied kid destined for the University of Minnesota and made some good depth signings like Victor Koslov and Tom Poti. The organization seemed to be moving in the right direction and Islander fans had a reason to feel optimistic yet again, there was nothing to foreshadow the chaos that was to come.
The press release had to be a mistake, a product of how little the media paid attention to the hockey world. The fact that the Islanders brass said to Neil Smith "you’re fired, gfy," was surprising for sure, but not jaw dropping. Who they named a replacement however, one couldn’t fathom how it could possibly be true.
Yet there was no correction to the bizarre headline, Garth Snow, the teams backup goalie just a day prior had retired to become the team’s general manager. The move, widely mocked by the media and fans alike, a sign of an incredibly incompetent and insane organization. Former superstar Pat Lafontaine resigned from his position in the organization that drafted him, not wanting to be a part of the circus. The team was widely picked to finish dead last in the league and many fans seemed to finally be fed up.
However, the Islanders shocked the hockey world, sneaking into the playoffs on the last day of the season thanks to an incredible run and a Wade Dublielewicz poke check. Snow has remained the general manager of the squad for the past 10 years and the surreal summer in 2006 seems to be a distant memory.
Throughout his 10 years Garth Snow has made and not made moves that have determined the direction the Islanders organization has travelled. Without further ado here is a report card on the moves which have defined the Garth Snow Era.
The Rick Dipeitro contract :N/A
The mega 15 year contract is thought to have solely been the brain child of Charles Wang, it’s even rumored that Smith’s refusal to go along with it helped lead to his departure, despite the fact this contract happened during his reign it is unfair for Snow to be graded on something he didn’t architect
The Ryan Smyth Trade: B –
The Islanders were sitting in the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference and looked like a team with a chance to make some noise in the playoffs. Grabbing Smyth served to improve those chances and the team was expected to push hard to re-sign him long term. An injury to DP served to sink their season, even though they ended up still sneaking into the playoffs. Smyth was determined to play in the Western Conference and rejected the Islanders offer come July 1st, but the pieces they gave up didn’t amount to anything and it was a decent shot at improving the team short and long term.
The Alexei Yashin Buyout: B+
Alexei was an extremely frustrating player, often going on cold streaks and seeming to lack the work ethic desired in an NHLer. A captain in name only, Yashin often found himself in Nolan’s dog house, even making an appearance on the fourth line during the first round playoff loss to Buffalo. Moving on from Yashin was a big step for the organization and in the cap era it freed them up to sign some of their pending UFA’s.
July 1 2007: C
The Islanders entered free agency hopeful to resign their two best players, Jason Blake and Ryan Smyth. They were unable to bring back either and lost key depth players Zednik, Koslov, and Poti as well. At the time this felt like an F, especially given Snow’s goals, but looking back on it, much more like an A. If the Islanders were able to bring all of those players back, they may have snuck into the playoffs a couple more times, but would never had been a serious threat. Moving on was probably the best thing possible for the organization, therefore a C feels like an appropriate grade.
Firing Ted Nolan: C-
It just didn’t seem to make any sense, the team out performed expectations yet again in 2007-2008, remaining in competition for a playoff spot until DP went down despite a far inferior roster to what they iced the year prior. Nolan also seemed to be well liked by players and fans, but for whatever reason Snow decided to go in another direction.
Trading Down from 5 to 7 and then 9 to take Josh Bailey: A-
The Islanders prospect cupboard was almost completely bare heading into the 2008 draft, this move allowed the Islanders to stock up on draft picks. As for Bailey, while a flawed, frustrating player he has proven to be a serviceable NHLer and none of the players drafted between 5 and 11 make anyone regret that Bailey was the pick, some even make you thankful.
Rounds 2-7 of 2008: B+
The later rounds are a bit of a crap shoot where the more picks you have the better shot you have of something good happening, the Isles had some misses but walked away with 3 serviceable NHLers in Travis Hamonic, Matt Martin and Jared Spurgeon. Snow’s failure to recognize what he had in Sprurgeon, he never offered him a contract, hurts the grade slightly
Mike Comrie + Chris Campoli for a first round pick: A +
Two mediocre and disappointing players bringing back a first rounder, no other way to describe that trade than a fleecing.
The 2009 Draft: B
Drafting Tavares was a no brainer, Snow followed that up with trading up for Calvin de Haan twice, a bit of a head scratcher given his pre-draft ranking, and several players taken in between the two draft positions have proved to be better players, but de Haan is a solid defenseman. Taking goalies at the beginning of both rounds 2 and 3 were awful decisions, combined and independently. Kevin Poulin had emerged as a decent prospect (though he never amounted to anything), they didn’t even take the number one goalie, Robin Lenher, heading into the draft, neither Koskinen or Nillson would have been able to help the team for several years in the best case scenario, and neither has had a very good NHL career. However, grabbing both Casey Cizikas and Anders Lee in the later rounds offset that. A good haul, but it left something to be desired.
The dumpster diving pick ups Schremp, Moulson, Grabner, Parentau, Hickey and Finley: A
Garth Snow seemed to have a knack for finding talent from the bottom of the barrel, Finley and Screhmp proved to not add much, but Moulson, Grabner and Parentau all added excitement to some bad Islander teams and showed themselves to belong in the NHL, Thomas Hickey is still a staple on the Islanders blue line
Keeping Capuano on as the head coach after 2010-2011: C-
The Islanders went on an epic losing streak to start of that season resulting in Scott Gordon getting the axe and Jack Capuano taking over as the bench boss. The team managed to improve slightly over Capuano, but he still posted a worse win percentage in his tenure as an interim coach than the team did under Gordon the year before. But the logic for bringing him back was easy to follow. Grabner emerged as a 34 goal scorer under him and the team seemed to find the respect they were looking for in an epic fight filled game against the penguins.
The Nino Saga: F
An unmitigated disaster is the only way to describe this fiasco. Nino did have an awful Rookie season, but he was playing 9 minutes a night with Jay Pandolfo and Marty Reasoner. He followed it up a huge World Championships and a dominating half season in Bridgeport while the NHL was locked out. But Garth didn’t invite him to training camp without even giving him an explanation. The emotional teenager was demanded a trade before seemingly being assuaged by management. Yet at the 2013 draft he was traded for Cal Clutterbuck, who at best is a third line pest who doesn’t believe in passing the puck, meanwhile Nino has emerged as a first liner on the Wild.
Drafting Ryan Strome: B-
If the Devils hadn’t won the lottery there is a strong chance Larrson would have been the pick. As it was the Isles sat at number five and the thinking was they would take either Strome, Hamilton, or Couturier. All three would have been solid choices and Strome has a 50 point season under his belt. But mismanagement by Jack Capuano has hurt his career, hopefully he gets back to his previous success under Weight and this grade can be upped.
Drafting Griffin Rinehart: C-
A lot of people had high grades on him so garth cannot be killed for this one, but a prospect who had scouting reports that said he was big, slow, and afraid to use his body just seemed like a bad idea.
Not giving his best offer for Corey Schneider and bringing back Evgeni Nabakov in 2013-14: F
The lockout shortened 2013 season saw the Islanders give the Penguins all they can handle in the first round. They probably should have won if not for extremely poor goaltending. Heading into the offseason it was clear an upgrade was desperately needed. But Snow offered Vancouver only Nino OR a first round pick for Schneider (confirmed by Arthur Staple) and the Canucks ended up striking a better deal with the Devils. This forced the Islanders to bring back the man who had sunk their season the year before, and he did it again.
The Tomas Vanek Saga: F-
The thing the Islanders needed in 2013-2014 was goaltending plain and simple. Trading a first round pick and a guy who scored 30 goals every year he played for the Islanders, for a pending UFA, who EVERYONE knew wanted to play for Minnesota was inexcusable. The Islanders very quickly fell out of the playoff race, Vanek rejected a huge contract and signed with Minnesota and the offseason and the Islanders flipped him at the deadline for the extremely underwhelming combonation of a second round pick and Sebastian Colberg.
The Josh Ho-Sang Saga: A+
This was an excellent move, turning two second round picks into a top 10 talent who fell for being outspoken. The Islanders allow him to be himself while also working to mold his overall game and handled the whole waking up late for training camp in a way which helped give Ho-Sang a wake up call. In other organizations he could have already flamed out, but as of now he is one of the Islanders most exciting players
Trading for Halak and then signing him: B+
Garth desperately needed to address the goaltending situation and was extremely proactive about it, getting a proven NHL starter early in the offseason
The Leddy and Boychuck trades: A
Turning Ville Pokka and a couple of second rounders into a top d-paring took the Isles from a borderline playoff team to a cup contender for their last season in the Coliseum , improved the respectiblity of the organization when the desperately needed it and also helped them long term
Standing Pat after 2014-2015: B
Over the first half of the season the Islanders had looked like one of the best teams in hockey, however they faded a bit down the back half, with the offense slowing down dramatically. Still the play of the kid line, combined with a war against the Capitals left good reason to be confident in the group they had.
Reinhart for Barzal and BVR: A+
Turning an overrated pylon who was already a clear bust into two top prospects was nothing short of a miracle.
The JFB Saga: F
Garth had felt he had found a gem on the waiver wire in the form of Jean-Francois Beurbe, rushing to claim him even though the Isles were already set in the crease with Halak and Griess. Berube couldn’t pass those two on the Isles depth chart and spent an entire season watching games from the press box because Snow was so afraid of losing him on waivers. This completely stunted JFB’s development, created problems with Halak and ultimately led to Halak getting sent to Bridgeport. The coaching staff had no confidence in Berube however and he still only got a start once in a blue moon, and with good reason he was awful when he played. The kicker of the whole saga? Berube has played so few games that he will end up becoming a UFA and the Isles will lose him anyway.
Not Trading Hamonic for Hall: D
If you don’t believe this trade was ever offered than feel free to remove this from your list. However, I feel it was, Staple said things that make it sound so. Also Garth was adamant at the time of the trade request that he only wanted to trade Travis for another young D-man with similar term. This trade would have given the Islanders a deadly 1-2 punch with JT and Hall and would have finally brought the winger Isles fans have clamored for since JT was drafted. Hamonic, while a solid player and a leader in the locker room is not an elite talent and the Isles have several young D-man waiting in the wings.
Pussyfooting around offering Frans Neilsen a contract: D+
Frans wanted to stay an Islander until the team waited so long to offer a deal that he started thinking about what else was out there. If Garth would have taken care of business proactively the Isles would still have their best two way center. The only reason this isn’t graded lower is because it opens up the possibility of entering next year with Tavares, Barzal, Strome, Cizikas down the middle and young forwards like Ho-Sang And BVR would have been log jammed.
Replacing Okposo with Ladd: C-
Both players have around the same production, neither excels away from the puck, they are both very frustrating at times . But Okposo is younger and was a home grown Islander who could have been gotten for right around the same contract
Hanging onto Capuano Way too Long this year: F-
Cappy was misusing players, it was clear the players weren’t responding, he was trying to stop skill players from doing their thing, preaching archaic systems that weren’t getting result, making the kids afraid of making mistakes, was a passionless coach in charge of a passionless team who sucked. Its hard to fathom how he was given such a long leash as the team kept on digging themselves into a deeper and deeper hole. The Isles are still trying to scratch and claw their way out of the trouble this buffoon led them into and they might not be able to recover