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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.

Snow, Weight ‘relieved of duties’ with Islanders

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The New York Islanders will look drastically different next season, even if John Tavares decides not to leave via free agency.

In resounding – if inevitable? – news on Tuesday, the Islanders announced that Garth Snow and Doug Weight have been “relieved of their duties” as GM and head coach. The least surprising part is that Lou Lamoriello will act as GM after recently taking on an all-encompassing role with the Isles.

The weird part is in the wording of the press release, as there’s a stench of legalese to this “not” amounting to them both being fired. Officially speaking.

After the typical copy-and-paste quote featuring Lamoriello thanking them both, the Islanders noted that … Weight and Snow will remain with the team? So, technically, they haven’t been fired as much as they’ve been demoted. But they have functionally been fired:

/Nominates this for “the most Islanders thing of the day.”

Here’s a guess: Snow is being soft-fired because of his contract. About a week ago, the New York Post’s Larry Brooks made mention of a “poison pill” that might have been part of Snow’s deal as GM. That might explain this discordant element of the franchise’s makeover.

This change comes not all that long after Islanders fans raised funds to put up “Snow Must Go” billboards close to Barclays Center. Snow acted as Isles GM since July 2006, so he certainly enjoyed ample opportunities to turn things around, particularly when the franchise landed John Tavares.

(And then Snow enjoyed the luxury of Tavares’ ridiculous bargain of a second contract, which is just now expiring.)

[MORE: Lamoriello has his hands full with these Islanders.]

In Weight’s case, the former veteran NHL player had his strengths as a coach, yet the Islanders seemed like a structural mess. Their defensive issues were most memorably highlighted by Washington Capitals winger Andre Burakovsky.

Lamoriello is now tasked with finding a coach who can better optimize the Islanders roster … which remains the biggest wild card of them all.

Will Lamoriello find a coach that might entice Tavares to return, if that’s much of a factor? Would luring in Ilya Kovalchuk make the difference (or would re-signing Tavares increase their chances of landing Kovalchuk)?

The Islanders face a ton of huge questions during this upcoming off-season, and the biggest one might be out of their hands. Lamoriello & Co. just made necessary calls on the second and third most important choices by “relieving” Weight and Snow “of their duties.”

Now, as far as these moves making it more or less likely to keep Tavares? Well, that’s clearly up to debate.

Buckle up, Isles fans.

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.

So, what would T.J. Oshie’s Metro card look like?

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Peter Forsberg’s Olympic shootout move earned its own postage stamp, a rare moment for a hockey player to be immortalized in the mainstream and mundane. If the Washington Capitals secure their first-ever Stanley Cup, T.J. Oshie may enjoy a similar honor.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (or Metro, because seriously) announced that they’ll concoct a commemorative “SmartTrip” card if Oshie and the Capitals win one more time during the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

It smells a bit of McDonald’s honoring Andrew Hammond‘s Hamburglaring and other fun crossover moments, although it’s a bit of a letdown that there was no mockup for the potential card:

In case you weren’t using social media for the past week or so, Oshie traveled to Games 3 and 4 via the Metro:

While the Capitals are taking measures NOT to count chickens before they hatch, let’s roll the dice and ponder what such a Metro card might look like.

  • Oshie merely celebrating a goal. (Boooring.)
  • An ode to him scoring approximately five billion shootout goals against Russia during the 2014 Winter Olympics. (Good, but probably not tied to the Capitals enough.)
  • One of those “image within an imagine within an image” mind-benders where T.J. Oshie is using his own SmartTrip card.
  • Personal favorite: a riff on that incredible prom photo.
  • Share your own ideas in the comments, because there must be a no-brainer idea out there. You know, aside from the prom photo.

So, those were a few suggestions to the bigwigs running the Washington Metro. Let’s all make sure that, if this comes to fruition, it ends up being cooler than Seth Rogen possibly becoming the voice of Vancouver’s Metro system.

If this is all too silly for you, here’s a reminder that Oshie gives back to his community in more ways than a fun public transportation photo opp:

Maybe Addy Flint deserves the commemorative Metro card, win or lose?

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.

Why Kuznetsov has been a nightmare to stop during playoffs

The NHL’s best playmakers can also double for the most frustrating forwards for a simple reason: they love to pass.

Sometimes that drive to make that “pretty play” can drive a coach mad, particularly when that translates to vetoing more of a sure-thing in the form of a shot. As Russian Machine Never Breaks’ Ian Oland noted back in November, Barry Trotz sometimes got frustrated with Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s bias toward setting up his teammates.

Which, to be fair, is pretty understandable when Alex Ovechkin is usually on your left wing.

” … I think what it does when he does shoot, it will open up his wingers for him, too, because everyone is shading to the wingers right now because they think he’s just looking for his wingers,” Trotz said in November. “He’s just got to shoot a little bit more. Be more of a threat. He’s a threat gaining the zone. He’s a threat when he gets to the top of the circles and then he’s looking to dish a little bit. And he can shoot the puck. I use his stick, I know. He’s learned from me. No, he can really shoot it and he’s accurate.”

Well, Kuznetsov takes those lessons to heart during the most important time of the year, as he really ramps up his shooting during the postseason. That’s been most abundantly clear during a 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs run where Kuznetsov’s already set a new Capitals franchise record for points with 27 (including 12 goals).

Via Hockey Reference, Kuznetsov averaged 2.37 shots per game during the 2017-18 regular season, which already stands as an improvement compared to his career regular season average (2.06). Kuznetsov’s almost like a different player during this postseason run, however, generated a lethal 85 SOG over 22 games (3.86 SOG per contest).

Despite playing with an apparent injury, Kuznetsov decided to shoot on this 2-on-1 during Game 3, and scored with the sort of accuracy you’d expect from a top-flight sniper … which maybe he’s becoming?

Whenever people ponder stopping Alex Ovechkin from firing in goals from “his office,” they often forget that the threat of that bread-and-butter shot opens up a lot of opportunities for other players. You can see that in how deadly T.J. Oshie has been on the power play.

Kuznetsov being just about as apt to shoot as he is to pass makes for a goalie’s nightmare, and he really seemed to be making all the right calls during Game 3. Considering how nice this setup was, only for Marc-Andre Fleury to make a highlight reel save on Ovechkin:

Usually, Alex Ovechkin ranks far ahead of any other Capitals forwards when it comes to firing shots on net, yet during this run, Kuznetsov isn’t far behind him. Ovechkin leads the postseason with 90 SOG, only five more than Kuznetsov. (John Carlson is fourth with 76, while Jonathan Marchessault comes in at third with 82 despite playing 18 games to 22 for Ovechkin and Kuznetsov. More on Marchessault here.)

While Kuznetsov’s increased trigger-happiness seems to be in part a transformation, it’s interesting to note that he ramps up his shooting as something of a springtime tradition.

2014-15: 42 SOG in 14 GP (five goals, 3 SOG per game) after 1.59 SOG per game in the regular season.

2015-16: 39 SOG in 12 GP (one goal, 3.25 SOG per game) after 2.35 in regular season.

2016-17: 43 SOG in 13 GP (five goals. 3.3 SOG per game) after 2.07 in the regular season.

Perhaps Kuznetsov kicks things up another notch when every contest matters that much more. After all, an 82-game regular season is a serious grind. Maybe some of this comes down to matching up against the same players for about two weeks. Defenders may key on Ovechkin that much more, making the on-ice calculus that much more obvious for Kuznetsov. You’d have to think that some of it comes down to his confidence going through the roof lately.

Then again, it might just boil down to Kuznetsov really wants to break out that “eagle flapping wings” celebration.

Whatever the explanation may be, defenders can’t just clog up passing lanes when Kuznetsov carries the puck in dangerous situations. Not during the playoffs.

As much as the Capitals’ run has revolved around Ovechkin looking as spry and mobile as we’ve seen in years, the dominance of the top line also comes down to Kuznetsov being a dual threat more than ever before.

The Golden Knights, like others, haven’t exactly enjoyed this rendition of “pick your poison.” There might not be an easy answer for it, either.

MORE:

• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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.

Golden Knights don’t need to worry about Marchessault

While the scale of concern sometimes feels as overblown as the Vegas Golden Knights’ vaunted pre-game presentation (they are only down 2-1), it’s true that the Washington Capitals gave the upstart expansion team a lot to worry about from Games 3 to 4.

Unlike their Western Conference opponents and just about everyone Vegas faced during the regular season, the Capitals found a way to clog up the Golden Knights’ exhilarating transition game. For all the jokes about Vegas “finally becoming an expansion team,” the real worry is that they looked, almost … flat and boring.

The Golden Knights also saw poor work from their second line, to the point that Gerard Gallant is subbing in Tomas Tatar for David Perron heading into Monday’s key Game 4 on NBC.

[Here’s the livestream link for Game 4. You can also enjoy “NHL Live” before the contest here.]

People might also be worried about the play of Vegas’ first line for the first time during this magical run.

After shockingly keeping pace – and in plenty of cases, getting the better of – the likes of Anze Kopitar, Joe Pavelski, and the Winnipeg Jets’ frightening high-end players, the trio of Reilly Smith, William Karlsson, and Jonathan Marchessault is sputtering a bit against the Caps.

Take Marchessault, for instance. Overall, he has a star-status-affirming 19 points in 18 postseason games, but lately things have dried up. The undersized, undrafted, indefatigable forward has only managed a single assist over the past four games, three of which came against Washington.

Does that mean it’s time to say that the pixie dust has worn off? Maybe for some elements of this team, but don’t blame Marchessault. And the Golden Knights shouldn’t worry about him.

For one thing, he’s putting up the sort of volume of shots that would indicate that he’s “due” for some positive bounces, and maybe those good breaks will come as early as tonight.

Despite coming up with zero goals (but two assists) over the past five games, Marchessault generated a whopping 28 shots on goal. That’s Alex Ovechkin-level trigger-happiness.

Did you yawn at those numbers and that chart (how dare you)?

Well, just consider the sports-car-swagger it takes to make a move like this, which was foiled only thanks to a great save by Braden Holtby:

No one wants to hear this, but in the modern NHL, just about every scorer is going to be doomed by poor luck. Or a keyed-in goalie. Or hitting a litany of posts.

It’s only human to get frustrated, and surely Marchessault must be feeling that a bit. Especially since he’s rarely struggled since the Florida Panthers made the Internet-entertaining gaffe of including him with Reilly Smith during the expansion draft.

The concern would be if Marchessault started getting in his own head too much. If the shot totals and highlight clips are any indication, it seems like he’s plugging away admirably.

Now, sure, it wouldn’t hurt if Vegas found a way to reinvigorate their flow to the speedy, exciting levels they’re used to. Such tweaks would help diversify their attack and take a little bit of the burden off of that top line. It also wouldn’t hurt if Reilly Smith has a rebound contest after an up-and-down Game 3 of penalties and mistakes, and if William Karlsson could get a bit more involved in the attack. Both of those scenarios seem reasonable, and maybe likely.

After praising the hardhat work of the fourth line (Pierre-Edouard Bellmare, Tomas Nosek, and Ryan Reaves), Gallant stated that he wanted his top trio to channel energy from the regular season.

“To a point yeah for sure, Belly and those guys play straight line, they work hard, they contain pucks down low and the way they have been successful in this series has been outstanding,” Gallant said. “Do I want Marchy and them playing like Bellemare? No I don’t. I love Belly, he does his job the way he does it, but our first line has to play the way they have played all season long.”

Even with Barry Trotz’s defensive tactics gumming up the works, Marchessault has been the most consistent source of scoring chances for Vegas.

To some, such work might only count under “moral victories,” but Marchessault and his partners would be better off ignoring the noise and keep doing what they’ve been doing. The goals should come … although as Ovechkin can attest, playoff success can be a fickle beast.

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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.