Tomorrow, the new hockey season begins. For the New York Islanders, there are many questions that they will face in 2017-18. After missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2013-14 campaign, the expectations are still high for the Isles. With an entirely new coaching staff and new blood ready to make an impact, this season could be something special, or the final chapter before major changes is made.
Our Rob Taub will give his thoughts on what to look for from the blue and orange this season.
Garth Snow has been at the helm of the New York Islanders for 11 years now.
In that time, Snow’s tenure has had its great moments and not so great moments. When he took over as general manager, the franchise was in-flux. But over time, Snow rebuilt the organization from top to bottom and has put a competitive product on the ice. The last three seasons have been some of Snow’s best despite only one playoff series win, and missing the playoffs last season.
Snow last year, made many mistakes — not letting Jack Capuano go early, the three-goalie system, and not bringing back Jaro Halak up when the team needed it — that could have persuaded ownership to let him go. Instead, he got a vote of confidence from Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin after the team spirited run in the second half of the season.
This year though, the pressure is on Snow to have the roster he built win, and win big.
He went out this summer and acquired a stud winger in Jordan Eberle for the much-maligned Ryan Strome. Eberle was picked by Snow to come play with John Tavares as his security blanket on the first line wing after years of not giving Tavares the proven winger he needed. Snow also traded long-time fan favorite Travis Hamonic to Calgary because he is depending on his plethora of young defensemen to grab that brass ring.
Furthermore, Snow left J.F. Berube exposed in the expansion draft, allowing his two goalies — Jaro Halak and Thomas Greiss — to finally go in to a season without a third goaltender stealing valuable practice time and provide stability in between the pipes.
After having problems of developing younger players in the past — Nino Niederreiter, Griffin Reinhart, etc. — Snow has now put all his eggs in one basket for the youth to lead the team in to the future. His first round picks from a few years ago — Mathew Barzal, Josh Ho-Sang, Anthony Beauvillier, and Ryan Pulock — all have to make an impact this season to befit Snow giving them the time they needed to be ready for the show.
While winning is the solution to everything, the most important thing Snow must accomplish this year to ensure his future, is getting captain and franchise cornerstone John Tavares to sign long-term. Snow has been mum on the conversations he’s had with Tavares since the middle of last season. The problem here, is that Snow waited till now to provide Tavares with the necessary backup to be successful. Never getting him a legit winger or trying to patch that position with former teammates, veterans past their prime, or friends has been the constant missing component to put Snow in the conversation as a good general manager.
Something else Snow has missed the mark on, is adding impact players.
If the Islanders are near the top of the Metro and the East by the time the trade deadline rolls around, Snow must find a way to make acquire a player that will add that extra intangible for a deep playoff run. No more Michal Neuvirth’s, Tyler Kennedy’s, or Shane Prince’s. This season is too important for Snow and his future not to show desperation at the deadline to make his team better in the most significant way.
11 years is long enough for the Islanders to finally take that elusive jump in to the NHL’s elite. While most of that will fall on the players and coaches, it most certainly falls on the general manager as well. This is the biggest season of Snow’s tenure as Isles g.m., plain and simple.
For Snow and his team, there’s nowhere else to go but up from here. If not, Snow could be on his last legs.