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Highs and lows for Garth Snow as Islanders GM

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When the New York Islanders promoted backup goalie Garth Snow to the position of GM in July 2006, you could almost hear the cackles from around the NHL.

It’s honestly a shame that Twitter only technically existed back then, sort of like how Snow technically wasn’t fired from the Islanders even though he was “relieved of his duties” as Isles GM on Tuesday. In retrospect, the decision to name Snow as Islanders GM wasn’t quite “laugh out loud” material; instead, his tenure stands as a mixed bag.

If you have to give a sweeping review? Yes, you’d probably deem it not good enough. Simply put, NHL teams need to strike quickly when they essentially hit the lottery, as they did by selecting John Tavares first overall in 2009. And, really, the Islanders failed to take advantage of another gift: Tavares’ second contract, which carried a ludicrously low cap hit of $5.5 million from 2012-13 until this past season.

Let’s take a look back at the mixed bag that was Snow’s 12-year(!) tenure as Islanders GM. Keep in mind this isn’t meant to be totally comprehensive, so feel free to comment on other moves and moments.

Steps in the right direction, just not enough

During Snow’s tenure as GM, the Islanders managed to make the playoffs four times (out of 12 attempts, which doesn’t feel redundant since, you know, lockouts).

In 2015-16, the Islanders’ most recent postseason run, they won their first series since shocking the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins (who were repeat champions). As you might expect, Tavares played a key role in eliminating the Florida Panthers during that competitive 2016 series.

At the time, it seemed like the Islanders were finally, truly ascendant. Instead, their progress stalled, as they failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs during the final two seasons of Snow’s tenure.

The good and bad news is that, relatively speaking, Snow leaves Lou Lamoriello with a relatively clean slate. Yes, there are some regrettable deals (looking at you, Andrew Ladd and Cal Clutterbuck), but Cap Friendly estimates the Isles’ cap spending at $46.74 million.

Of course, the ideal scenario is that John Tavares pushes that up closer to $60M. Either way, Lamoriello can put his mark on this team without spending too much time sending people to “Robidas Island.”

Peaks and valleys

The fascinating thing about Snow’s tenure is that you can look at various significant players and often see the good and the bad.

(Let’s go ahead and skate past most of his earlier moves, merely noting that some give him a pass for the notorious Rick DiPietro contract.)

Take Kyle Okposo, the last first-round pick selected before Snow’s watch.

On one hand, hindsight indicates that the Islanders probably made the right choice in letting him leave via free agency. Unfortunately, they essentially chose Andrew Ladd over Okposo, so it was still a situation they’d seek a mulligan for.

Travis Hamonic is another interesting example. He was a solid steal in the draft (53rd overall in 2008), and Snow waited through some drama to trade him when the time was right for the Islanders, landing some serious draft capital from the Calgary Flames. Hamonic struggled for a Calgary team that missed the playoffs, setting the stage for the Islanders to hold picks 11 and 12 for this upcoming draft.

Then again, even a struggling Hamonic might have helped them stop some of the bleeding on defense …

Trading away high picks

From a drafting perspective, Snow showed some ability to find some gems (Anders Lee, sixth round in 2009) and also was able to fix some mistakes by way of clever trades. OK, to be more specific, he bamboozled Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli to help him turn Griffin Reinhart and Ryan Strome into Mathew Barzal, Jordan Eberle, and Anthony Beauvillier. Considering how the Reinhart/Barzal scenario looks, it truly is remarkable that Chiarelli took Snow’s call regarding Eberle.

(Snow also memorably offered the Columbus Blue Jackets a Mike Ditka sending everything for Ricky Williams-type deal to move up in the 2012 NHL Draft, yet was turned down. Now that was quite the “what if?” scenario.)

Granted, things didn’t always work out when Snow was guilty of a misstep.

Michael Dal Colle, the fifth pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, has only played four games with the Islanders to this date. Masochists could scroll down that draft to see the likes of Nikolaj Ehlers (ninth), Dylan Larkin (15th), and David Pastrnak (25th) selected after him.

Now, sure, just about every NHL GM curses a bad-in-retrospect selection, but some of Snow’s biggest swing-and-misses do sting.

That’s especially true with the high draft pick trade that didn’t work out. While Cal Clutterbuck clutters the Islanders’ cap with a shaky contract, Nino Niederreiter is a key forward for the Minnesota Wild. Niederreiter only played 64 games for the Islanders before being shipped off in that one-sided trade.

That big summer and the breakthrough that never happened

While it didn’t produce the breakthrough many hoped for, October 4, 2014 remains Snow’s biggest and maybe best day as Islanders GM.

During that memorable afternoon, Snow landed Johnny Boychuk from the Boston Bruins and Nick Leddy from the Chicago Blackhawks. The Leddy deal still looks pretty spiffy today, but either way, it was a prime example of an up-and-coming team leveraging contenders’ cap conundrums to get better. The Islanders simply didn’t improve enough.

One might attribute that inability to go from good to great (and eventually the malaise to slip from good to mediocre?) on Snow’s coaching choices. Snow stuck with Jack Capuano for quite some time, and the decision to promote Doug Weight ended up being a failure.

For all we know, a more experienced or innovative coach might have been able to optimize a group that, while imperfect, certainly boasted some talent. Just look at the Pittsburgh Penguins under Mike Sullivan vs. a similar Penguins team held back by Mike Johnston’s ill-fitting system if you want an example of what a difference that can make.

Snow frequently showed patience, something that paid off for similarly long-tenured Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. Sometimes, too much of a good thing like patience can really be a detriment in sports. It’s fair to wonder if that was the case with Garth Snow.

***

You could kill hours pouring over the highs and lows of Snow’s days. Really, it’s a testament to how tough it can be to run an NHL team, especially one trying to shake a bad reputation like the Islanders fought.

Snow worked past the days of trading for a player’s negotiating rights, only to realize they wouldn’t sign with his team. He recognized under-the-radar talent on the waiver wire and boasted draft-day hits amid the misses.

Still, he was unable to get over the hump for a variety of reasons, including (wait for it) goaltending.

Of all the things that went wrong for the former NHL backup, that might be the factor that stings the most.

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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Kovalchuk could be other no-brainer of this free agent summer

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At age 35, Ilya Kovalchuk would normally be a very risky bet in free agency. There’s always the chance that things swerve from here, but at the moment, he instead seems like he could be one of the true gems to hit the market.

A fascinating report by TSN’s Darren Dreger really transforms the discussion, and should be fodder for plenty of NHL fans to daydream: one of the deadliest snipers of this generation may accept a deal like the one Toronto gave to Patrick Marleau last summer (three years, $6.25 million cap hit).

That would be one heck of a deal for a truly gifted shooter who dominated the KHL since the 2013-14 season after generating exactly a point-per-game (816 points in as many contests) during his outstanding NHL career.

Kovalchuk only taking up a modest chunk of cap space would really alleviate worries about how the aging curve might affect his game.

While it’s highly likely that he’s a step or two slower, he’s always been a crucial guy for his NHL teams, from his do-everything days with the Atlanta Thrashers to his impressive, too-short run with the New Jersey Devils. During his final NHL season in 2013-14, Kovalchuk averaged the workload of a top pairing defenseman, logging 24:44 TOI per contest. It often felt like he never left the ice when his team was on the power play, in particular.

By reportedly valuing winning over getting maximum dollars, Kovalchuk doesn’t just make his potential contract less risky. If he joins a team with other talented players, he won’t have to carry the same workload. If healthy but not what he once was from a transition/all-around standpoint, Kovalchuk could at least be a premium version of a “trigger” on a power play (see: Sam Gagner‘s greatest moments with the Columbus Blue Jackets).

Kovalchuk told Dreger that he expects to compete at a high level.

“If there was any doubt in my mind, I would never come here. I wouldn’t be running around just to collect the money,” Kovalchuk said. “I want to be productive and I want to play for the team that trusts in me and I will give them everything I can to make them proud and successful. I have three or four years left in my tank where I can compete at the highest level…that’s why I’m here and that’s why I want to sign in the NHL.”

We’ve seen examples of top-end players convert KHL dominance to significant NHL contributions, albeit with younger stars such as Artemi Panarin and Alexander Radulov, so it wouldn’t be shocking if Kovalchuk seamlessly returns to the NHL. For all we know, the shorter seasons in the KHL might revitalize him.

(And Jaromir Jagr showed that an older, big-name player can come back to the NHL and enjoy immense success.)

Beyond the “How good will he be?” questions, most fans want to know where he’ll go. Ultimately, we won’t know for sure until July 1 at the earliest (the first date where he can officially sign a new deal).

Dreger reports that Kovalchuk’s negotiations will be handled by CAA Hockey/J.P. Barry, who happen to represent John Tavares, aka the biggest no-brainer of free agency … assuming he even really hits the market.

That connection is even more intriguing when you consider the very positive relationship Kovalchuk has with newly minted New York Islanders overlord Lou Lamoriello.

Islanders fans finally have some positive things to picture this summer, as Kovalchuk and Tavares could serve as enticements to draw each other to Brooklyn, while Lamoriello may very well improve the odds of one or more of those two things working out. Kovalchuk could potentially serve as the most entertaining linemate we’ve ever seen for Tavares, with all apologies to Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, and Anders Lee.

There are plenty of other fun scenarios, and Dreger reports that Kovalchuk’s reps have already been in discussions with at least eight NHL teams.

(That detail, honestly, is maddening. It would be disappointing if there were as many as eight teams who weren’t interested. Maybe some GMs are just taking early vacations?)

Anyway, there are a lot of fun scenarios. Imagine Kovalchuk going back to the Devils to help ease the burden of Taylor Hall, especially now that New Jersey’s style is about 10x more fun. The Islanders make a lot of sense considering recent developments, while the Rangers and Panthers also rank among the teams that have been connected to Kovalchuk in various rumors. Maple Leafs fans seem to be taking that Marleau comparison (and the team’s heaps of cap room) to the next level.

It’s all a lot of fun, particularly when you consider the fact that the NHL lags behind other professional sports when it comes to free agent frenzies.

Let’s just hope that Kovalchuk a) comes back to North America to dazzle us with his skills and b) chooses a contender so we can watch him deploy that world-class shot during the playoffs. He’s already been gone from the best hockey league in the world for far, far too long.

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Guide

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT Morning Skate: Pastrnak’s emergence; Sharks can’t get complacent

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Not having Cam Fowler has been a significant issue for the Ducks through the first two games of their first-round series against the Sharks. (OC Register)

• San Jose owns a 2-0 lead over the Ducks, so avoiding complacency is their biggest challenge heading into Game 3. (NBC Sports Bay Area)

• A lot of people believe Brad Marchand is the most dangerous player in the NHL, but Nazem Kadri is giving him a run for his money. (Stanley Cup of Chowder)

• During a dominant Game 2 performance against the Toronto Maple Leafs, David Pastrnak showed that he’s ready for prime time. (Bruins Daily)

• The city of Humboldt has been changed forever by a bus crash on a Friday afternoon. The lives lost on that day will never be forgotten, but the people there will have to find a way to continue living. (SI.com)

• ‘Hawks captain Jonathan Toews not only donated game-worn jerseys to the Humboldt Broncos, he also went to visit them. (Chicago Sun-Times)

• Now that Ken Hitchcock has retired, the Stars should look internally for their next head coaching candidate. (Defending Big D)

• There’s no way the Canucks will be able to replace what Daniel and Henrik Sedin did for them, but they need their young players to start contributing offensively now that the twins are gone. (Vancourier)

• The Hockey News ranked each fan base’s level of misery. It’s safe to say that fans of the Blues and Sabres have been tortured the most. Life’s good if you’re a Penguins fan though. (The Hockey News)

• Now that Ilya Kovalchuk has turned 35 years old, he’s officially an unrestricted free agent. He still can’t sign with anyone until July 1st. (The Score)

• ESPN looks at which teams have the most playoff experience on their roster and how that can or can’t help them going forward. (ESPN)

• Black Aces rarely get to participate (on the ice) in their team’s playoff run, but that doesn’t mean that the title is meaningless to them. (Eliteprospects.com)

Kyle Okposo‘s on-ice performance has been disappointing since he joined the Sabres. He knows that he’ll have to spend a lot of time in the gym this summer. (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

• College hockey referee Dan Dreger was on the hook for a portion of his medical bills after taking a slap shot to the face that caused a lot of damage. (Grand Forks Herald)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: Golden Knights retire number 58; 16-year-old Jack Hughes turning heads

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Tonight might just be Erik Karlsson‘s last home game as a member of the Ottawa Senators. (Ottawa Sun)

• The Detroit Red Wings have started winning games at the wrong time. Sure, it’s nice to see them end the season on a positive note, but their chances of winning the lottery have taken a serious hit. (MLive)

Thomas Vanek has been a great fit in Columbus, but John Tortorella would like him to shoot the puck a little more often. (Columbus Dispatch)

• Devils forward Marcus Johansson (concussion) has been activated off injured reserve. He didn’t play in last night’s game against Montreal, but it sounds like he’s close to coming back. (NHL.com/Devils)

• The one thing that could take the Bruins down is their hectic schedule. (NBC Sports Boston)

• It wasn’t too long ago that the Florida Panthers were surging. Now, they’ve seemed to hit a wall and their playoff hopes are badly damaged. How did this happen? (Sun-Sentinel)

• Like most coaches with teams eliminated from playoff contention, Joel Quenneville has done a lot of teaching this season. (Chicago Sun-Times)

• Beer league teammates and opponents react to Scott Foster making his NHL debut for the Blackhawks last week. (NBC Sports Chicago)

Kyle Okposo played football and basketball, but he quickly fell in love with the game of hockey even though his parents forbid him from playing after the Christmas tree incident. (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

• Nobody from the Islanders organization benefits from the situation between the organization and prospect Josh Ho-Sang. (The Sports Daily)

• What does San Jose’s road record say about their chances of making some noise in the playoffs? (NBC Sports Bay Area)

• The Capitals have put Tom Wilson in a position to succeed offensively, and he’s done just that. (Nova Caps Fans)

• Now that Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins share a line together, it’s time for the the Oilers to find someone to play with Leon Draisaitl. Whether that’s via free agency or with a trade, it has to be done. (Oilers Nation)

• 16-year-old Jack Hughes looks like a star in the making. TSN hockey analyst Craig Button has already referred to Hughes as “one of the most exciting players I’ve seen in a long time.” (USA Today)

• NHL referee Dave Jackson took part in his final game last Thursday. He worked over 1600 games in 25 years of work. (Scouting the Refs)

• The Vegas Golden Knights retired no. 58 in honor of those who passed away during the Vegas shooting in October:

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

WATCH LIVE: Toronto Maple Leafs at Buffalo Sabres

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CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

PROJECTED LINES

Toronto Maple Leafs

Zach HymanWilliam NylanderConnor Brown

Patrick MarleauNazem KadriMitch Marner

James van RiemsdykTyler BozakLeo Komarov

Matt MartinTomas PlekanecKasperi Kapanen

Morgan RiellyRon Hainsey

Jake GardinerNikita Zaitsev

Travis DermottConnor Carrick

Starting Goalie: Frederik Andersen

[Maple Leafs – Sabres preview.]

Buffalo Sabres

Zemgus GirgensonsRyan O'ReillySam Reinhart

Scott WilsonJohan LarssonJason Pominville

Jordan NolanJacob JosefsonKyle Okposo

Benoit Pouliot — Kyle Criscuolo — Nicholas Baptiste

Marco ScandellaRasmus Ristolainen

Brendan Guhle — Casey Nelson

Nathan BeaulieuVictor Antipin

Starting Goalie: Chad Johnson