EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — Underneath the staircase, just outside the New York Islanders practice facility locker room sat a blue and orange team bag with “SNOW” printed on the ID tag. The bag may have been packed but the general manager who it belongs to is apparently not going anywhere.
On Monday, as the Islanders finished up the second day of exit interviews before beginning their off-season, owner Jon Ledecky sat next to GM Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight and read from a prepared statement that did not definitively say one way or the other that changes were coming in those positions.
“We are committed to long-term success. Any decisions we make are for the long-term success of our hockey club. We win and lose together as an organization, not as individuals,” said Ledecky. “Missing the playoffs is beyond disappointing. At the same time, we believe we have a strong core of players that will be the basis for our success on the ice. Obviously our definition of long-term success is competing every year for the Stanley Cup and eventually winning a fifth ring.
“Our season has just ended and as an organization we will be evaluating all aspects of our hockey operations and then we will make decisions based on what is best for the future of our club. I’m not here today to talk about any specific individuals including players coaches and the general manager.
“We believe that it is essential to our success to have a thoughtful evaluation to look at the past and more importantly assess the future of our team on and off the ice.
“As for the past season, as owners, we have failed. We sincerely apologize to our fans. We want to express that our ownership group is totally committed to winning and providing the resources to do just that.”
At that point, Ledecky, who spent several nights during the season greeting fans inside Barclays Center and on the Long Island Rail Road, got up and stood in the back of the room and did not take questions as Snow and Weight tried to explain away another disappointing year.
A second straight season without the playoffs, which was derailed by a second half skid and an inability to keep the puck out of their own net, now transitions to a defining summer for the franchise. Captain John Tavares can enter the unrestricted free agent market on July 1, and as of Monday, he hadn’t begun to think about what direction his future will take him.
“This is where I hope to be. I’ve always stated that,” Tavares said. “But obviously I have some time to think about my situation and go from there. I’ve loved it here and people have really embraced me, the team and organization have been first class since I’ve gotten here. Obviously, some great talent and some great things ahead. Definitely a lot of positives and I’ll have to take some time and figure out what I want to do and go from there.”
Tavares has consistently expressed his love for the organization and the Long Island area, but after nine years and three playoff appearances, the lure of moving on to an annual contender remains an option.
The loyalty factor could come into play, as well. Aside from his affection for the team and area, Snow drafted Tavares first overall in 2009 and the captain spent his first two years in the NHL living with Weight and his family. It’s the only organization he’s ever known and it’s clear both sides have told one another about how much they desire to bring a championship back to Long Island.
“I think they know how bad I want to win and I think I know how bad they want to win,” Tavares said. “I don’t think they’re here not trying to win and trying to do the best they can on a daily basis and give it everything they have, and try to get the most out of our group and continue to have success and have an opportunity on a yearly basis to play for the Stanley Cup. I don’t think that’s any question, their commitment to having a winning team.”
During 16 minutes he and Weight spoke, Snow said he wants to see Tavares “retire as an Islander” five times. There were the usual quotes of wanting to be better next season and putting in effort to not be in the same situation a year from now, but the confidence the fan base has in the leadership of the team has diminished over the last few years, which resulted in billboards being put up in Brooklyn calling for the GMs dismissal in February.
It seems pretty clear that Snow and Weight will be back next season. What more do Ledecky and co-owner Scott Malkin need to evaluate after before deciding to officially retain the pair? The draft and free agency periods are coming up and there’s the Tavares contract situation to sort out. Someone has to be in charge of those things and that’s been Snow’s job for the last 12 years. If you were going to change it, wouldn’t it have happened already?
It’s a crucial off-season for the franchise and with relatively new ownership and a new arena coming, the winning days need to return quickly for the franchise. And for Snow, the work is already underway.
“We’ll go through the process of reviewing the entire organization,” said Snow. “The first part, the exit meeting with the players is step one. Obviously, the draft is the end of June and those meeting will start picking up here in a few weeks to see where we sit with the lottery. It starts again [Tuesday] morning for Doug and myself and that review process.”