Garth Snow: The Cliff Notes
Starting with the 2001 NHL draft, the Islanders made plenty of franchised changing decisions. This was the summer when the Islanders (and Charles Wang) decided they were done being a bottom of the league team and were going to make a splash. They acquired Alexi Yashin and Michael Peca to be their top two centers going into the 2001-2002 season. Missed in all the excitement was the July 1, 2001 signing of journeyman backup goalie Garth Snow. This was the move that has shaped the franchised more than any other. He was brought in to support the future of the franchise Rick Dipietro. The summer of 2006 brought another major organizational change. The goalies were still Rick Dipietro and Garth Snow. First Mike Milbury was relieved of his General Manger duties, and Neil Smith was hired in his place. Before the month of July ended, Smith was fired and Garth Snow was promoted from backup goalie to General Manager of the New York Islanders. Younger fans may not realize how ridiculous this was at the time. Now that Snow has been here 12 years many just know him as the General Manger of the team. This decision made the Islanders the laughingstock of the league yet again. Imagine if the Isles fired Snow and replaced him with Thomas Greiss
These last 12 years have been interesting to say the least, ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski recently placed all the current NHL general managers into ranked tiers. Snow was in a tier all to himself which may be the best summary of his tenure with the Islanders. There has not been a team executive like him. This week, fan frustration came to a head with the raising money to purchase a billboard demanding the firing of Garth Snow. This has been a long journey, here is just a condensed version of Snow’s tenure with the Islanders in the Garth Snow Cliff Notes.
Each season will be from July 1 to June 30
Snow took over this team in the middle of July, from both Smith and Milbury. Most of the roster was built before he took over the job. His promotion did leave a whole at backup goalie which he had to fill (resigning Wade Dubielewicz). His first true order of business was signing Rick DiPietro to a 15-year contract (which if not bought out, would still be an active contract today). Reports at the time stated that Charles Wang and Dipietro discussed the deal a year prior. This deal seemed to be more Wang than Snow. This decision will go down as one of the worst in Snow’s tenure, a pass should be given here as the decision was made before he was named General Manager.
This season the Isles made the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons (one season was missed due to lockout). The second part of the season was defined by Ryan Smythe. On February 27, 2007, the Isles were in a tie for 7th place in the East and not a serious Cup contender. Even still they made a trade for pending unrestricted free agent Ryan Smythe from the Edmonton Oilers. In the deal Snow gave up 2005 first round pick Ryan O’Marra, 2003 first round pick Robert Nilsson, and their 2007 first round pick. The deal was good enough to get the Islanders the eighth seed in the playoffs after a game 82 shootout victory over the New Jersey Devils. The Isles eventually lost in five, to the heavily favored Buffalo Sabres. This was the last season the Isles made the playoffs until 2013. Smythe had no interest in staying on Long Island and left as a free agent. There was no Ryan Smythe video tribute when he came back to the Coliseum.
It is difficult to give Snow credit for this season since the team was already built and the two most defining moves this team made were tremendous negatives (though it’s unsure how much power he had to prevent the Dipietro deal). The Islanders were not getting any better, in fact it would get worse.
This was the first of five straight seasons where the Islanders finished last in the Atlantic. Snow was unable to resign Ryan Smythe, Alexi Yashin was also bought out and returned to Russia. Snow looked to Mike Comrie, Bill Guerin and Jon Sim to help move the Islanders forward. Kyle Okposo would make his debut after some controversial comments by Snow about the University of Minnesota and their hockey program in regards to the development of Okposo. No other major trades were made during the season. As discussed, a few months ago, the Isles traded down twice to draft Josh Bailey in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft. They also took Travis Hamonic is round two and Matt Martin in round five. At the conclusion of the season, Snow fired his first coach Ted Nolan and hired Scott Gordon in his place.
Things went from bad to worse this season for the Isles. They went from 79 points in 2007-08 to 61 in 2008-09. Only two other teams (Tampa and Colorado) were even within 15 points of the Isles in the standings. By year three, it’s safe to say that there has been enough time for Snow to put his mark on the team. His decision was that this team needed a “rebuild”. July 2, 2008, Garth Snow signed Doug Weight as a player, whom has been with the organization in multiple roles since, including Assistant General Manager, and Head Coach. In addition to Weight, Mark Streit was the other big July 1 deal for the Islanders. No major trades were made due to the Islanders not having any veteran players that would make an impact for another team.
The draft this year was a crucial moment for the Islanders, and may be Snow’s best draft. After winning the draft lottery, they were awarded the number 1 overall selection. While there were some debates for Matt Duchene and Victor Hedman, Snow made the correct choice in taking John Tavares first overall. They added a second first round pick in Calvin deHaan, Casey Cizikas in round four and Anders Lee in round six. History looks positively at this draft even with missing on goalies with picks in round two and three.
There was some excitement for the Islanders. The addition of John Tavares was the first sign of hope in years. This also began the stretch where Snow was pretty good at finding players teams had given up on. Whether it was through waivers or free agency Snow hit on a more of these then most. The signing of Matt Moulson turned out to be one of Snow’s better moves. The Isles were no longer the worst team in the league but they were still no where close to competing for a playoff spot. This was still at a time when people bought into the plan and it was believed to be on schedule. The “rebuild” was off and running.
The draft this year was not a successful one for the Islanders. With the fifth overall pick they took Nino Niederreiter, which created a situation that would play out over the coming years. With the last pick of the first round, they selected Brock Nelson, no other selection ever made an impact for the Isles.
Another last place season for the Isles and patience is wearing thin. In October and November, they lost 20 of 21 games and fired Scott Gordon along the way. He was replaced by Jack Capuano. There was almost no improvement shown (minus one memorable night against Pittsburgh in February, where the Isles won 9-3 and there were over 300 penalty minutes). This was Snow’s fifth season as General Manager, gone are any excuses. He had plenty of time to grow into the job, and he has had plenty of time to make the team in his image. Two major waiver acquisitions were made the first being Michael Grabner who was actually third in the Calder voting, the second was Evgeni Nabokov.
While many fans have fond memories of the netminder, the beginning of the relationship was not good. Late in the 2011 season, Nabokov was playing in the KHL until he signed a deal to play for the Detroit Red Wings, the issue, was the NHL had re-entry waivers at the time. This meant that even though he signed with Detroit other teams had the ability to place a claim for the player. Snow placed a claim for Nabokov. The frustration for Nabokov was obvious, he agreed to a deal to play for Detroit who went on to win the Central Division. Instead if wanted to continue his season, he would have to play for the last place Islanders who made no attempt to sign him while he was in Russia. Nabokov did not report to the Islanders that season. The Isles carried over his contract and he joined the team the next season. This was seen by many around the league (especially those in Detroit) as an unnecessary manipulation of the rules. Since they were not in contention they should have let Nabokov do what he had planned, like the other teams at the bottom of the league (the Isles could not trade him without him clearing waivers due to CBA rules). The deal ended up helping the Isles as Nabokov took over as the starter the next season, but it is difficult to see why Snow went out of his way to pursue Nabokov. If he reported in the spring of 2011 he would have been ufa in the summer. Re entry waivers have since been eliminated.
The 2011 draft saw the Islanders draft Ryan Strome fifth overall, which has to go down as another missed opportunity at the top of the draft. Other than Scott Mayfield, the Islanders completely missed with the remainder of their draft picks.
Another year and another last place finish for the Isles. They were out of playoff contention before the season even began. Much like the year before the Isles had a miserable stretch in October and November losing 14 of 17 and 22 out of 30. A respectable finish to the season brought the Isles to 79 points but were never a serious contender for a playoff spot. 2010 first round pick Nino Niederreiter played 55 games and scored one goal playing on the fourth line with guys like Jay Pandolfo and Marty Reasoner. You can question whether that is the fault of the coach (Jack Capuano), for his limited minutes or Snow, for not sending him back to juniors, but it was a terrible misuse of the player. It was not until next season that the Niederreiter situation would come to a conclusion.
The 2012 NHL draft saw the Islanders draft defenseman Griffin Reinhardt fourth overall. The only reason this is not considered to be a disaster of a pick is because Snow as able to deal him for Edmonton’s first round pick three years later, and then they were able to use the pick on Mat Barzal. Looking at this draft and the previous two; the Isles had three top five selections and none of them are currently on the team. In fact, Ryan Strome was the only one who had any bit of productivity (258 games 45goals-81 assists-126 points). Adam Pelech was a third-round pick in a second straight disaster of a draft.
A team not named the Islanders finished in last place! The Isles actually made the playoffs as an eight seed in the lockout shortened season. For the first time in years positivity was felt around the organization. Finishing the regular season with three straight loses, prevented the Isles from being higher ranked in the playoffs. They could have been seeded as high as fifth, as they finished 2 points behind fifth place Toronto. But it was playoffs so many of the sins of the past were forgiven. A six-game loss to the heavily favored Penguins ended the season but there was hope.
This was the year of waiver pickups, Thomas Hickey, Joe Finley and Brian Strait (who would receive a three-year contract extension). Another non-traditional transaction (at the time, it has since become popular amongst teams manipulating the salary cap) was when the Islanders traded for Tim Thomas. Thomas retired the year before but his contract was still on the books for the Boston Bruins. Since they did not have to pay Thomas, the Islanders and Bruins made a deal. Thomas would be on the Islanders books to help them make the salary floor and the Bruins were able to stay under the salary cap. In all actuality this deal meant absolutely nothing but does show some of Snow’s creativity. This was also Rick Dipietro’s last season with the Isles. His contract was bought out and he never played in the NHL again.
This season also brought the conclusion of the Nino Niederreiter story. With the lockout going on and they sent him to Bridgeport. When the lockout concluded they did not invite him to NHL training camp and instead kept him in the American Hockey League. This apparently caused Niederreiter to demand a trade from the organization. After one season playing with fourth line grinders, Niederreiter believed he paid enough dues to earn a chance to contribute to the big club. Snow denied those reports. By the draft the relationship was no longer salvageable and they traded their 2010 fifth overall selection to Minnesota for Cal Clutterbuck and a third-round pick. As good as Clutterbuck has been with the Isles, that is terrible asset management.
With the Isles in the playoffs they were no longer picking in the top five. With the 15th pick they selected Ryan Pulock. While the jury is still out on his development, he may be the best first round pick from 2010 through 2014. Outside of Alan Quine in round six, no draft pick has made a difference for this team.
Even with the league realigning to four division the Islanders finished in last place again, this time in the Metro. Just like in 2011-12 they finished with 79 points. A ten-game losing streak in November after a bad start was enough to bury them before the season truly got underway. This season was defined by one uncharacteristic trade. Snow decided it was time to make a big move and acquired Thomas Vanek from the Buffalo Sabres. At the time the Sabres were trading everyone, and Vanek was the top forward that would be available during the season. Snow pulled the trigger dealing a first-round pick and fan favorite Matt Moulson in the deal. This is one of the few major trades Snow has made during his time with the Islanders. Most of the deals have been providing (to another team) or gaining depth, cap related, or maneuvering the draft. This deal and the Ryan Smythe deal are the only two examples of a major trade made by Snow in attempts to push this team over the top. While neither trade has worked out it is interesting that there were only two trades to this level. Being out of the playoff race, the Isles were able to deal Vanek for a second-round pick.
The Islanders had another top five pick where they took Michael Dal Colle. Snow was able to maneuver himself back into the first round to take Josh Ho-Sang as well at 28. Prospects Illya Sorokin, Linus Soderstrum and Devon Toews were also taken in this draft.
After a disappointing offseason where the Islanders made minimal impact (adding only Mikhail Grabovski and Nikoli Kulemin) Snow waited until training camp ended to strike. The Islanders had plenty of cap space, the same could not be said for the Boston Bruins or Chicago Blackhawks. Snow was able to acquire both Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuck right before the season started for a couple second rounds picks and mid-level prospects. Adding two quality defensemen made the Islanders a team to watch as the season began. The Islanders finished in third place for the season with 101 points. While it was an entertaining playoff series, the Islanders lost Game 7 to the Capitals in Washington to end their season.
Due to the Thomas Vanek trade, the Islanders did not have a first-round pick of their own. Snow was creative in the 2015 draft. Trading Griffin Reinhardt for the ability to draft Mat Barzal is already one of the biggest wins in Snow’s career. He was also able to add a second first round pick and take Anthony Beauvillier at 28. In fairness to Snow, any picks made are very difficult to judge. Most players selected are currently only one year out of junior, while some may still be playing in college.
This is the best season during the Snow regime. 100 points was enough for fourth place in the Metro division and a crossover matchup with the Florida Panthers as the first wild card. The Panthers were another team that was experiencing a bit of a renaissance, after many years near the bottom of the Atlantic division (and the Southeast before realignment), but the Islanders were able to advance to the final eight in the NHL. For some teams failing to make the second round is a disappointment, for the Islanders it was considered a great success and the first time they did it in almost 25 years.
The offseason was time for changes around the Islanders, with mainstays like Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielson, and Matt Martin free agents the Islanders didn’t retain any of them. They instead replaced them with Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera. The players from Snow’s rebuild were starting to leave as ufa’s with only one series win and two other playoff appearances to show for it.
Last season was a difficult one for the Isles where another terrible November that was enough to knock them out of playoff contention. They were able to climb back into the race but it was too little too late for this team. 94 points was good enough for fifth place in the Metro division. During the season Snow fired his third coach in Jack Capuano and named Doug Weight interim (then permanent) coach.
After the season Snow was able to trade a disappointing Ryan Strome to Edmonton for Jordan Eberle and Travis Hamonic to Calgary for a first round and second round pick next season, along with an additional second. Before that, came the expansion draft when Snow made the type of deal only he could make. In order to protect most of the players on the roster from Vegas, Snow instead dealt a first-round pick along with Mikhail Grabovski’s contract. Snow was the only GM to be that creative in a deal with the Golden Knights. To be fair, this is a tough deal to judge because we will never know what players would have been targeted by Vegas. Snow paid a heavy price but it’s unclear if it was worth it.
This season is still too early to judge but seems safe to say unless they go on an unlikely run, a playoff appearance may be best case scenario.
Using regular season point totals; let’s see how the Islanders regular seasons look in comparison to the rest of the division from 2006-07 through 2016-17. Note Columbus was in the Western Conference until 2013-2014, and Carolina and Washington were in the Southeast division. The first column is team, second is total points, third is average points (note 2013 only 48 games played), and fourth is best finish.
|Washington||1,078||98||3 Presidents Trophy’s|
|New York Rangers||1,043||94.8||Finals Appearance|
|New Jersey||966||87.8||Finals Appearance|
As we can see, the Islanders have been the least successful regular season team (tied with Columbus) in the division since Snow has taken over. Playoff results make the Snow regime look worse. Using playoff rounds won as a judge of success only Calgary, Edmonton and Colorado have been as successful over the last 11 seasons winning a single playoff round. Only Florida, Toronto, Columbus, Winnipeg and Vegas have been less successful.
You could be sympathetic to Snow, with the issues he dealt with over his tenure but those issues have passed. The Isles are spending up towards the salary cap and have been for the previous three seasons. The rebuild from the beginning of this decade brought nothing more than competitive hockey but outside of a few weeks in 2014 they have not been a serious Cup contender. Snow has shown the ability to be creative in building a team by adding unrecognized talent, and making deals that would not even enter the minds of other GM’s. He has flat out whiffed on three consecutive top five selections and it looks like a fourth one Michal Dal Colle will not be living up to the selection either. Ownership needs to answer two questions. First, what is the goal of this organization? Snow has put a competitive team on the ice for most of the previous six seasons but many would say that is not good enough. If the goal is to win a Stanly Cup, we need to ask what is the plan, and is it feasible? Are these results acceptable?