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.

Isles roster features two 19-year-olds — and three goalies

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After a busy last couple days in Brooklyn, the Isles have their opening night roster.

And it’s a unique one, to say the least.

As expected, 19-year-olds Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier — the 16th and 28th overall picks at the 2015 draft — have cracked the 23-man list, after PA Parenteau was claimed off waivers by New Jersey and d-men Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock were sent to AHL Bridgeport.

(Veteran forward Eric Boulton was placed on IR with a lower-body injury.)

In net, the Isles forged ahead with their three-goalie system: JF Berube, Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak are all still around, and head coach Jack Capuano added some intrigue when he said Halak might not be ready for Thursday’s season opener against the Rangers at MSG.

While that initially caused some consternation — Halak is fairly injury-prone — Newsday quickly calmed things down by reporting that Halak is sick, not injured.

So when the dust settled, New York emerged with a roster comprised of the three goalies, 14 forwards and six defensemen.

Today’s demotions would suggest that Pelech and Pulock will be the first called upon should Capuano need blueline help, or injuries hit one of Johnny Boychuk, Calvin de Haan, Travis Hamonic, Thomas Hickey, Nick Leddy or Dennis Seidenberg.

Report: Isles, Hickey closing in three-year pact around $6.5M

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Sounds as though the New York Islanders are close to a deal with pending RFA blueliner Thomas Hickey.

Per Newsday’s sources, the contract extension is believed to be of the three-year variety, with Hickey pulling down “in the range of” $6.5 million total — a cap hit of around $2.16M.

For Hickey, 26, it’s a nice bump from the $675,000 he netted annually on his last deal.

The former Kings first-rounder was claimed off waivers by the Isles prior to the lockout-shortened ’13 campaign and has been a steady lineup presence ever since; he’s appeared in 82 and 81 games in consecutive seasons and both set and matched a career-high in points, with 22 each year.

Getting Hickey locked in was fairly important for the Isles, as they dealt away Griffin Reinhart at the draft and don’t expect to return Lubomir Visnovsky.

That puts Hickey in a top-six defensive group with Johnny Boychuk, Travis Hamonic, Nick Leddy, Calvin De Haan and Brian Strait, with youngsters like Ryan Pulock and Scott Mayfield looking to make the leap.

‘Canes release LaRose from PTO, waive Boychuk

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The Carolina Hurricanes sent two familiar faces packing from training camp on Monday, releasing Chad LaRose from his professional tryout while waiving Zach Boychuk for the purpose of assigning him to AHL Charlotte.

LaRose, 32, rejoined the ‘Canes this year after taking a hockey sabbatical in 2013-14. The speedy veteran — who’d spent his entire eight-year career with Carolina — returned to the ice this fall after saying he “fell out of love” with hockey, and inked a contract with the Checkers, where he’ll likely end up (assuming he doesn’t take another hiatus.)

As for Boychuk, he’s once again on waivers — a familiar spot for him. The 25-year-old, Carolina’s first-round pick (14th overall) at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, went from Pittsburgh to Nashville and then back to the ‘Canes during the lockout-shortened ’13 campaign, all via the waiver wire.

Boychuk appeared in 11 games for Carolina last season, registering just four points, but was a dynamic scorer at the AHL level, scoring 36 goals and 74 points in 69 games for the Checkers.

Pressing question: How will Boston’s defense hold up?

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One of PHT’s 10 pressing questions in advance of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs…

The Bruins have to hope the kids are alright, because Zdeno Chara can only do so much.

That’s the situation at hand for Boston as it looks to get back to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second consecutive year, starting Friday in an opening-round series against Detroit.

Chara is one of the league’s best defensemen, and it’s not a coincidence the Bruins’ fortunes started to turn shortly after he came over from Ottawa eight seasons ago.

That said, he’s now 37 and has endured a grueling stretch that dates back to the start of the condensed 2013 campaign.

As alluded to earlier, the B’s went to last year’s Cup Finals, meaning Chara had a shortened summer. Despite that, Boston has continued ply him an average of 24:39 minutes per game this year — and that was on top of his stint in the Olympics with Slovakia.

He’s performed superbly under the strain, but will it catch up to him? The possibility is higher now that we’re in the playoffs, where the intensity of the games increases and the Bruins are likely to ask Chara to play even more.

The Bruins have to hope fatigue won’t start to become a factor, because they’re missing the safety net that is defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. Though not at Chara’s level, Seidenberg is a solid blueliner, a veteran presence and someone that can be trusted to step up in the postseason. With him out with a torn ACL/MCL, the B’s defense after Chara does have some question marks.

Boston’s attempts to fill the Seidenberg void were largely unsuccessful. It did acquire Andrej Meszaros and claimed Corey Potter off of waivers at the deadline, but those are complimentary defensemen rather than guys you want to lead in critical games.

MORE: Latest Bruins news, analysis from CSN New England

As a result, the Bruins need to hope their young blueliners will help carry the load. That includes 25-year-old Matt Bartkowski, 20-year-old Dougie Hamilton, and 23-year-old Torey Krug.

All three received some playoff experience in 2013 and held their own, with Krug in particular sticking out, but this time will be different. They’ve established themselves as important parts of the blueline during the regular season and will consequently be asked to log significant minutes in key situations during the postseason. If Chara does start to show signs of wearing down, the young trio that will need to take on even more responsibilities.

If they can pull that off, the Bruins will have managed a seamless change of the guard on the blueline from the core of veterans that won them the Stanley Cup in 2011 that included Chara, Seidenberg, Andrew Ference, Tomas Kaberle, Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid, to a new generation that will potentially carry Boston for years to come.

That shift to a new generation is necessary, even if injuries have forced the process to accelerate, but these changes often involve growing pains. The cost of the transition might end up being a quick exit from the playoffs in 2013 — despite their regular season success.

For more Pressing Playoff Questions, click here.