The Philadelphia Flyers have made it official and hired Chuck Fletcher as their new executive vice president and general manager, replacing Ron Hextall, who was fired on Nov. 26.
“At the conclusion of a rigorous review of GM candidates, Chuck Fletcher clearly stood out from the field of talented and capable executives we considered,” said Comcast Spectacor Chairman and CEO David Scott in a statement. “Chuck has earned success throughout his impressive NHL career and offers the right mix of expertise, business acumen and leadership qualities that the Flyers need today as we work to achieve our ultimate goal, the Stanley Cup Championship.”
“The Flyers are proud to have Chuck Fletcher as the new general manager of our hockey club,” added Flyers president Holmgren. “Throughout his career he has helped shape teams that have consistently competed in the playoffs. In addition, Chuck’s tireless work ethic, wealth of knowledge and experience in the hockey community will be instrumental in leading our team into the future. I’d like to personally welcome Chuck to the Flyers family.”
The New Jersey Devils had employed Fletcher as a senior advisor this season, and when Hextall was fired the Flyers asked for permission to interview the 51-year-old, who was considered the front-runner. Holmgren said last week that the new GM would be from outside of the organization and someone who has a “bias for action,” a shot at Hextall’s desire to remain patient and not make irrational moves in the face of tough times.
Fletcher, who did not have his contract renewed last April following nine years with the Minnesota Wild, takes over a Flyers team out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture and with a number of decisions that need to be made.
• How aggressive will Fletcher be to implement change?Hextall’s patience didn’t mesh with the vision the Flyers’ brass had for the team, and as they kept sinking down the standings and goaltenders continued getting injured, there was no big move made. In fact, Hextall really didn’t make any blockbusters during his tenure. Among his notable moves in Minnesota, Fletcher did acquire the likes of Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Jason Pominville and Devan Dubnyk through trades. He did, of course, sign Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to those massive 13-year contracts and dealt Brent Burns and Nick Leddy away. (He picked up Coyle through that Burns deal, at least.)
• Can he fix the goaltending situation? The Flyers have used five goalies through 25 games, the most by any NHL team this season. Carter Hart, 20, is the future in net, but he still needs time to develop in the AHL before being handed the reins. Stop me if you’ve heard this before but there currently is no answer in goal in Philadelphia. Solving that problem should be atop Fletcher’s to-do list.
• Will Dave Hakstol last? “I hate to say Dave Hakstol’s fate is in the next GM’s hands but it is,” said Holmgren last week. “I’m not going to make that decision.” An 11-12-2 start as December gets rolling isn’t an ideal way to make playoff dreams become a reality. There are certainly names out on the coaching market — Joel Quenneville, Todd McLellan, Alain Vigneault — and you’d expect given all the talk from upper management they’re going to be aggressive to make improvements up and down the team. Replacing Hakstol might be a costly decision, but the Flyers have never been an organization to shy away from splashing the cash.
• What is the future of Wayne Simmonds? The 30-year-old forward is in the final year of his contract. With the addition of James van Riemsdyk and the need to extend restricted free agents Ivan Provorov, Scott Laughton, Travis Sandheim and Travis Konecny this summer, there may not be enough salary cap space to keep Simmonds, who was acquired as part of the Mike Richards trade in 2011.
In Fletcher’s nine seasons with the Wild, he went through four head coaches and the team made the Stanley Cup Playoffs six times, managing to get out of the opening round only twice.
The Flyers haven’t won a playoff series since 2012. Let the fun begin.
The Metropolitan Division produced the Stanley Cup champion for the third season in a row, yet you couldn’t call it a familiar sight.
After decades of heartbreak as a franchise and a decade of heartbreak for signature star Alex Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals finally did it. After seeing their Presidents Trophy run end and “only” winning the Metro, the Capitals won their first-ever title. Fittingly, they ended up needing to get through the Penguins, a team that’s crushed their dreams multiple times in the past. In hindsight, it HAD to happen that way.
Five Metro teams ended up making the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, with the surprising Devils, persistent-if-frustrated Blue Jackets, and rising Flyers joining the Capitals and Penguins. Few would bat an eye if the division once again sent a maximum of five squads to the postseason in 2018-19, although the cast of characters could change.
This post winds through the ups, downs, dreams, and fears for all eight teams.
Better or worse?: Oh dear, that’s a loaded question.
One thing’s for sure: they’re different. They changed their coach and GM, so we’ll see if Rod Brind’Amour can maintain the possession-happy ways that partially explain why the Hurricanes have frequently been go-to dark horse candidates. (Here’s hoping that “Rod the Bod” is more progressive and modern than “Team Grit” and “Team Grind” would indicate.)
Let’s lean toward better because, frankly, it’s tough to imagine their goaltending declining from last year’s season-sinking mess.
Strengths: Hamilton and free agent signing Calvin de Haan bolster a defense that already ranked among the deepest in the NHL. That’s especially true if the Hurricanes hang onto Justin Faulk, even if Brind’Amour will need to juggle to get everyone proper ice time. (Most other NHL GMs are sarcastically playing the world’s smallest violin.)
Beyond defense, Carolina boasts a ton of youth, and Svechnikov only strengthens that point.
Weaknesses: Goaltending, duh.
Mrazek didn’t exactly stop every puck that came his way after being traded from Detroit to Philadelphia, and while he showed flashes of brilliance in the past, his best Red Wings days are moving further away in the rearview mirror. Mrazek and Scott Darling could be OK, yet they don’t exactly inspire utmost confidence.
Also, while that offense has some pieces, it’s fair to wonder if there are enough gamebreakers. Trading away Skinner did not help.
2017-18 Highlight: The team kindly collects the best of last season in this clip.
MVP Candidate: Hamilton may put on an exhibition that will make him the guy in Carolina, but let’s bet on Aho, who led the team in scoring last season and is just 21 years old. Aho isn’t a household name, yet if you turn on a Hurricanes game, he’ll likely be the player who captivates you.
Playoffs or Lottery?: As “fool me once” as this feels, Carolina leans closer to the playoffs. No, this is not a recording; yes, it will be tough for them with plenty of other viable teams in the East. Whether they actually make it or not, Carolina is much more likely to be in the bubble than in the cellar this season.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Better or worse?: Worse, in some ways for matters that are out of their hands. The uncertainty surrounding Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky – two enormously important players – hangs over Columbus like a dark cloud. If one or both gets traded away, you can move this from a soft worse to a hard worse.
Strengths:Zach Werenski and Seth Jones might comprise the NHL’s most dazzling young defensive duo, and if they continue progressing in this current direction, you might not need the young caveat much longer.
Also, the Blue Jackets currently have a high-end forward (Panarin) and a Vezina-quality goalie (Bob). Currently.
Weaknesses: It could all come crashing down if they move Bob and Bread. We can all acknowledge that Pierre Luc-Dubois was a success as a rookie, but how good is he really if he doesn’t have one of the world’s most explosive wingers helping him out? They might need to go back to a rat-like mentality if they lose their stars.
MVP Candidate: Panarin and/or Bob if one or both stays. If not, Seth Jones was really drumming up Norris Trophy buzz, although he’d need to fight off his buddy Zach, who’s generally an even more explosive scorer.
Playoffs or Lottery?: It’s easy to forget that the Blue Jackets generated 108 points in 2016-17, and were quite potent with 97 last season. They haven’t met their goals during the postseason yet, but they’ve been a force during regular seasons. Of course, losing their stars could warp that outlook …
Generally speaking, they’ve mostly just stayed in place, but call it a step back.
Strengths:Taylor Hall faces long odds in producing back-to-back Hart Trophy seasons, but he’s a spectacular winger who absorbed a comically outsized array of abuse during his Edmonton days. Hall is awesome, and the Devils have some other nice forwards, including Nico Hischier, who immediately backed up his status as the top pick of the 2017 NHL Draft. Kudos to New Jersey for embracing its strengths on offense last season, and there’s little reason to expect them to turn away from what worked.
Weaknesses:Cory Schneider was basically in a crisis in 2017-18, and it’s not as if that defense is really equipped to bail him out. The Devils’ forward group has some other nice pieces (especially if Marcus Johansson can get healthy), yet they still ask Hall to pull off one too many miracles.
2017-18 Highlight: All Hail Hall.
MVP Candidate: Uh, duh, the reigning MVP.
Playoffs or Lottery?: Last year, it was a no-brainer to be lottery, and then the Devils made a stunning run to a playoff berth. GM Ray Shero deserves some credit for not overreacting and messing things up by adding a bunch of short-term investments, but New Jersey is unlikely to walk that tightrope again. They’re closer to lottery fodder heading into 2018-19.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS:
Better or worse?: (Laughs awkwardly.)
Strengths:Mathew Barzal should soothe some of the John Tavares-related wounds, as he is a splendid scoring wizard of a sophomore. Sure, it will be tough to ask him to top or match last season, especially with a lot more pressure on his shoulders and far more attention from opposing defenses. Barzal, Jordan Eberle, Anders Lee, and Nick Leddy provide the sort of offensive spark that might make the Islanders fun to watch, at times.
Also, Barry Trotz could help clean up that disastrous defense.
Weaknesses: Good grief, that defense was horrendous last season, and the goaltending couldn’t clean up matters, either. Both stand as likely problems heading into 2018-19, although improvements are easy to imagine simply because the bar is so long. Unfortunately, no Tavares means that their offense is weaker by a face of the franchise-sized margin.
2017-18 Highlight: The Islanders might as well put up a Barzal billboard.
MVP Candidate: Sorry to heap all of these expectations on you, Barzal, but there’s no other choice. The 21-year-old scored 85 points in 82 games last season, and who’s to say that isn’t just the tip of the iceberg?
Playoffs orLottery?: Lottery, by a mile. On the bright side, the Islanders hit it out of the park during the 2018 NHL Draft, and could very well land another blue chipper in 2019. Jack Hughes could look really nice as a one-two punch with Barzal, eh?
NEW YORK RANGERS
Better or worse?: Worse, yet by design. Management acknowledged that a rebuild is in motion. The fascinating question is: how long will they commit to that plan? What happens if Artemi Panarin really does heart New York?
Weaknesses: That defense is a tire fire inside a Dumpster fire transported by a train wreck. Holy smokes. Also, Lundqvist may indeed be feeling his age and all of that past hockey mileage, and the offense is unlikely to hang with other explosive groups in the Metro. So, let’s broadly say “lots.”
2017-18 Highlight: Pavel Buchnevich made a fan’s day last season.
MVP Candidate: If anyone’s even in the realm of Hart chatter, it has to be King Henrik. Even Rangers management might root against that, consider New York’s eyeing of the basement.
Playoffs or Lottery?: Lottery, and expect the Rangers to chase more chances at first-round picks. Could they trade Zuccarello? Maybe the question is actually, “Who won’t they trade?”
Better or worse?: The glorious return of James van Riemsdyk gives a boost to a power play that already consistently ranked among the NHL’s most terrifying groups. Considering how Nolan Patrick ended last season, it wouldn’t be surprising if he made a nice jump – if not leap – this season, too.
Strengths: Remember that bit about Columbus’ defensive duo? Philly readers might have been yelling at their screens while eating decadent sandwiches (seriously, I need to get to Philly one of these days). Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere are right up there with the best young duos in the NHL. With Claude Giroux revamped last season, Sean Couturier climbing the Selke ranks, and other scorers looking promising – opponents can’t be happy that Travis Konecny blew up once the calendar turned 2018 – this offense should be potent.
It sure seems like GM Ron Hextall’s vision is coming into focus, and it’s a sight for sore eyes.
Weaknesses: Head coach Dave Hakstol isn’t exactly beloved by Flyers fans, so that’s something to watch if Philly stumbles out of the gate.
Brian Elliott tends to play best when people count him out, and all three of Philly’s potential goalies should have motivation (contract years for Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, Carter Hart wanting to prove himself as NHL goalie now). Still, goaltending is the eternal question for the Flyers, and this year probably won’t disappoint.
2017-18 Highlight: Giroux clinched a Flyers playoff spot in style.
MVP Candidate: Giroux crossed the triple-digit barrier for the first time last season, collecting a whopping 102 points. If he can avoid the erosion of age – he turned 30 in January – then the Flyers captain could be in the Hart discussion once again.
Playoffs or Lottery?: Playoffs. Considering the young players Philly boasts, it’s not outrageous to daydream about exponential growth for the Flyers. If they see more baby steps than leaps, they’re still likely to at least be in the bubble.
On one hand, Matt Murray is likely to enjoy a better season, and the hope is that Kris Letang will be healthier. On the other, this team’s getting older; considering how star-dependent this team can be, any slippage from Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin could really sting.
Strengths: Still, those stars.
Crosby and Malkin remain among the cream of the crop. All of the drama around Phil Kessel really distracts from the remarkable feat he accomplished in 2017-18, setting a new career-high with 92 points, including 34 goals.
This team has a lot of weapons, and a coach willing to actually deploy them. It’s plausible that Derick Brassard will rebound during a contract year, too.
Weaknesses: This Penguins team gives up almost as much as it produces, and that puts a heavy burden on Murray. If Brassard and others can’t get it together, Pittsburgh will continue to ask the world of their world-beaters. In a team sport like hockey, that frequently translates to asking too much.
2017-18 Highlight: Last season felt like an elaborate MLB tryout for number 87.
MVP Candidate: The Penguins remain a pick your poison proposition: will Crosby be the top star this year, or will Makin snatch the crown? Despite playing four fewer games in 2017-18, Malkin generated 98 points to Crosby’s 89. Sometimes it’s as simple as which superstar center enjoys the most help. In that regard, did you know that Jake Guentzel is entering a contract year?
Playoffs or Lottery?: Playoffs. This team’s managed to clinch berths even during seasons when multiple star players miss huge chunks of time due to injury. The Penguins remain all-in, and the window to contend remains open. We’ll see if they can put it all together.
Better or worse?: Worse, yet not to the extreme that plenty of championship teams encounter. They managed to bring back key pieces of their magical curse-breaking Stanley Cup run, with John Carlson‘s re-signing ranking as arguably the biggest surprise. They didn’t even break the bank with depth players, generally speaking, as many championship teams do. That Michal Kempny deal was remarkably reasonable.
Then again, they did give Tom Wilson a gobsmacking amount of money, and Barry Trotz is out. Also, they killed untold number of brain cells celebrating their epic victory …
Strengths: The Capitals feature the many building blocks of a juggernaut. Alex Ovechkin is the high-end sniper. They have a great one-two punch of centers in Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov, while their supporting cast features a nice veteran (T.J. Oshie) and intriguing young scorers such as Jakub Vrana and Andre Burakovsky. For all the worries about Todd Reirden taking over for Trotz, he might be more willing to unleash Vrana and Burakovsky. The defense has some nice pieces, and Braden Holtby shook off a tough regular season to remind us why he’s one of the league’s most reliably great goaltenders.
There just aren’t a lot of holes on this team.
Weaknesses: Reirden’s never been a head coach, and he’s facing a huge challenge in trying to repeat. Like the Penguins, the Capitals aren’t ancient, yet Father Time is at least hovering as a threat, at least when it comes to competing at the highest levels. With Philipp Grubauer in Colorado, Washington may not have much of a safety net if Holtby once again falters.
2017-18 Highlight: Pick your favorite.
MVP Candidate: People expect Ovechkin to stagger through the first few months of the season after knocking the biggest, silver item off of his bucket list, and understandably so.
On the other hand, he’s Alex Ovechkin. Despite playing a physical style where he receives and delivers a raucous number of hits, Ovechkin’s managed to play almost every game possible. Ovechkin’s played in far more games than Crosby (1,003 to 864) despite his rambunctious style.
Playoffs or Lottery?: Most seasons, it’s more reasonable to merely wonder if the Capitals will win the Presidents’ Trophy, or just their division. With a coaching change, less certainty at backup, creeping age, and the Stanley Cup hangover, maybe the Capitals will relinquish the Metro crown. Regardless, they still have the tools for a playoff berth.
You have to at least say this for the New York Islanders offseason: It has not been quiet, and it has definitely been interesting.
They continued making moves on Monday when they first announced a one-year contract for free agent center Jan Kovar after a successful career in the KHL. Kovar was an intriguing player that a lot of teams had interest in given his production in Russia, and he should get an opportunity to play a decent role in New York following the departure of John Tavares in free agency.
Is it a guarantee to work out? Not at all. But it is not a bad gamble for the Islanders to take on a one-year deal.
The move on Monday that raised some eyebrows was the announcement of a four-year — four years! — contract for restricted free agent Ross Johnston.
He has played in 25 NHL games (24 of them coming this past season) and has scored three goals and six total points. He has spent the past three years mostly playing for the Islanders’ American Hockey League team Bridgeport where he has totaled 14 goals and 30 total points in 139 games. He has also accumulated 327 penalty minutes in those games and is a regular when it comes to dropping the gloves.
So the question that needs to be asked here is this: Why the need for a four-year contract — a contract that at Johnston’s age will buy out two years of unrestricted free agency — for a player with that resume?
Also worth asking: Why do the Islanders keep giving long-term contracts to depth players like Ross Johnston?
With Johnston re-signed, and combined with the free agent addition of Leo Komarov, the Islanders now have 10 players signed for at least the next three seasons (some of them for longer).
Bailey is coming off a huge season and even if he does not duplicate it will at least be counted no to be a top-line forward. No problem there.
Ladd’s first two years in New York have been rough but he, too, was at least signed with the intention to be a top-six winger, while Leddy and Boychuk (who is already 34) were signed to be top-four defensemen. Boychuck and Ladd may not have worked out as planned long-term, and they may not have been great risks given the ages at the time of their signings, but they were at least hoping for top-of-the-lineup players. To be fair, Boychuck did give them a couple of years of that sort of play.
The rest of that group, though, is mostly depth players. Players the Islanders have acquired or signed with the intention of being bottom-six or bottom-pairing players. Just about all of them cost between $1.5 and $3.5 million against the salary cap, meaning they are not just significant investments due to their term, but also financially.
This is a bizarre strategy in the sense that almost no other team in the NHL has constructed their roster in this manner. This is not a statement of opinion, either. This is a statement of fact.
Look at it from a numbers perspective.
During the 2017-18 NHL season there were 154 forwards that played in at least 20 games and averaged under 0.30 points per game. Only four of those players logged more than 15 minutes of ice-time per game, and none of them played more than 16 minutes per game. They are all, for all intents and purposes, bottom-six forwards.
Your third and fourth lines have value. A lot of it. The NHL today is about being able to balance four lines that can score, contribute, and impact the game in all situations. As a group, they are important. They are not, however, players that tend to get significant long-term contracts from teams, or players that carry a ton of value individually. Their value is in the sum of their parts. Recent Stanley Cup winners in Pittsburgh, Washington, and Chicago have built their bottom lines with some combination of young players on entry-level contracts, or veterans signed to short-term deals. The latter group of players are usually the first ones to be let go when salary cap space gets tight at the top of the roster. The former group usually plays its way into a bigger role with the team.
Out of that group of 154 forwards mentioned above, only 10 of them are currently signed for at least the next three seasons.
Four of those players (Komarov, Clutterbuck, Cizikas, Johnston) are under contract with the New York Islanders.
Two other players on that list (Roussel and Beagle) were signed this offseason by the Vancouver Canucks. Harsh as it may sound, if you are building your team in the same image as the Jim Benning Canucks … that is probably bad.
There are a handful of players on that list that are at the end of longer term contracts. Martin Hanzal, for example, has two years remaining on a three-year contract that he signed with Dallas. Matt Martin has two years remaining on a four-year contract he signed with Toronto (and as noted above, he, too, now plays for the New York Islanders).
This, again, is only looking at forwards and does not even take into account the five-year contract they gave a defenseman like Scott Mayfield.
And it’s not like this is just one general manager doing all of this.
Cizikas, Clutterbuck and Mayfield were all signed on Garth Snow’s watch.
Komarov, Martin, and Johnston were all signed/acquired this offseason following the hiring of Lou Lamoriello.
This is very obviously an organizational approach.
What makes this potentially damaging to the Islanders is they are not really saving any salary cap space or putting the team in a better situation by doing this. Objectively speaking, players like Cizikas, Clutterbuck, Martin, Komarov, and Johnston are not adding much — if any — offense to this team this year or in the future. Out of that group Komarov is the only player that for his career averages more than 0.30 points per game — he is at 0.37. In a league and era where four lines that can score is a necessity, they have five roster spots and nearly $14 million in salary cap space going to plays that are not providing any meaningful offense (and again, that does not include the salaries going to Ladd, Boychuk, etc.) for this season and beyond.
They could almost certainly get the same level of production — if not more — for less against the salary cap by just rotating in different free agents on short-term deals and entry-level players every season. Even if you generously say that each of those players is *only* overpaid by $500,000 or $1 million per season and on their own they are just little mistakes, but as I pointed out following the addition of Martin those little mistakes add up to a few million dollars when you combine them all together.
When you are a team that just lost your franchise player in free agency, has two of your best remaining players (Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle) up for unrestricted free agency after this season, and will have to sign your new cornerstone player (Mat Barzal) to a new contract in two years when his entry-level deal is finished, that can add up to a big problem.
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.
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.
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 landedJohnny Boychuk from the Boston Bruins and Nick Leddyfrom 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.
It’s unclear at the moment what specific role the 75-year-old Lamoriello will have within the organization. It’s possible he takes over the role of president of hockey operations or general manager, or potentially both. His son, Chris, is the Islanders’ assistant GM.
Next, where does current GM Garth Snow stand? He’s been running the show since 2006 and has a contract for at least four more seasons. The team has made the playoffs only four times during his tenure and advanced out of the first round once. The fan base demanded change once this season went off the rails, with billboards purchased in Brooklyn calling for Snow’s firing. During an end-of-season press conference in April, Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky said Snow and head coach Doug Weight would be staying for now, but that he would be “evaluating all aspects of our hockey operations.”
The next question is the biggest and that has to do with Tavares. He’s said time and time again that he wants to re-sign, but hasn’t inked an extension and hasn’t given any indication what factors would sway him one way or the other. A new arena on Long Island is coming. But is this change in management and whatever Lamoriello told him in their chat enough to convince him to not explore free agency and commit to staying with the franchise? Only time will tell. But this change could be a good first step forward for the franchise.
UPDATE: The Islanders made the news official on Tuesday morning, with Lamoriello getting the title of president of hockey operations. “He will have full authority over all hockey matters with the organization” was also noted in the press release. Farewell, Garth?