Let’s talk about Garth Snow. Yes, that Garth Snow: The man every Islander fan wished to never hear of again after June of 2018.
It’s been just over three years since Snow was relieved of his GM duties, and over two years since he last worked for the organization in any capacity. Despite that, he is partly responsible for the resurgence of the New York Islanders.
Now let me say this before I continue, I was harder on Snow than most during his tenure and have said for quite a while that he’s the worst executive I’ve ever seen work in sports. I would like to apologize to Garth because I was wrong, sort of.
Snow officially retired from the NHL on July 18, 2006 and was named Islanders’ general manager the same day. It seemed weird at the time, and it was, firing a Stanley Cup winning GM Neil Smith in favor of a backup goalie who never spent a day in his life in a front office of any kind. The Islanders were mocked at the time (shocker), but the few defenders of the organization cited Snow’s bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Maine as a reason for hope.
In the 12 years that followed, Snow’s Islanders made the playoffs just four times, never making it out of the first round. It took seven seasons before Snow’s team eclipsed the 40-win mark. He cycled through four different head coaches — Ted Nolan, Scott Gordon, Jack Capuano, and finally Doug Weight. Most general managers these days rarely get to pick multiple head coaches, Snow got four chances. In fact, the head coaching carousel perfectly sums up Garth Snow’s tenure, lack of accountability. Even with misstep after misstep, Snow kept getting chances.
It felt as though the organization was afraid of firing him. Fans grew frustrated and rightly so, lack of success should lead to organizational change, but not in this case. As time went on, however, Snow showed improvement, with the last four years of his tenure were his best. And it showed.
His last four seasons the team won a combined 168 games out of 328, a .512 winning percentage. That may not seem great, and it’s not, but it was a vast improvement over the prior eight years. However, the on-ice success of those Islander teams was not the most impressive feat, it was Snow’s savvy roster moves that continue to pay dividends to this day.
During the current 2021 season the Islanders have had 30 players suit up in a game, 18 of those players were acquired by Snow. 13 of those players were drafted; five them acquired via trade, free agency, or the waiver wire.
While his drafting in the early rounds left a lot to be desired — spending three consecutive top-5 picks on Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Strome, and Griffin Reinhart — he routinely found gems in the later rounds. Matt Martin, Travis Hamonic, Casey Cizikas, Anders Lee, Adam Pelech, Devon Toews and Ilya Sorokin were all selected in the third round or later. Mix some of those late round gems in with a few first round hits such John as Tavares, Bailey, Nelson and Ryan Pulock, and his draft record doesn’t look too bad. However, there was one day that shines brightest as Snow’s finest moment as Islanders general manager: June 26, 2015.
— IslesBlog (@IslesBlog) June 6, 2021
That was the day of the NHL draft in Sunrise, Florida. The day Snow made the best transaction of his tenure and a main reason why the Islanders sit where they do today: Griffin Reinhart to the Oilers in exchange for picks 16 and 33 overall. Mathew Barzal was taken with pick 16 and Anthony Beauvillier was taken with pick 28, after Snow packaged pick 33 with the Isles’ own third rounder to move back into the first round.
Six years later, Barzal and Beauvillier are franchise pillars, while Griffin Reinhart and his 37 career NHL games, is playing in Germany. Snow entered that draft with zero first round picks and left with two major pieces. That was for sure his finest day with the franchise.
Snow also made some savvy trades and signings as well. Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome deal and the Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy deals coming to mind. Thomas Hickey was a waiver claim and ended up playing in over 450 games for the Isles. Pelech and Scott Mayfield were after thoughts a few years ago and now they’re two of the most important Islanders.
When Snow signed Pelech to a four-year, $6M contract extension in the summer of 2017, Isles fans, myself included, thought he was nuts. How does that deal look now? Mayfield’s deal, signed just months after Pelech was for five years, $7.25M. Those contracts are two of the most valuable contracts in the league today and credit goes to Snow for his foresight. He also should be praised for making deal with the Vegas Golden Knights ahead of the expansion draft to ensure Vegas stayed away from Pelech. Pelech is a star in the making as NBC’s Pierre McGuire pointed out last night.
Was Garth Snow the greatest GM ever? Absolutely not.
In reality, he still underachieved when you consider how long he had the job. However, the Islanders today wouldn’t be the Islanders without Snow and the moves he made in the dozen years he was here. He saw his team end a 23-year drought of playoff ineptitude and laid the foundation for what came next. While it was certainly time for Snow to go, today’s team should always be remembered as part of what Snow has left.
Follow Ethan on Twitter @egreenberg99