Nine months ago on July 14, Jon Ledecky, the new primary owner of the New York Islanders met with Islander season-ticket holders for a state of the union to assess the future of the franchise. On that night, he used two words that reverberated much that night from writers and fans alike: World Class.
Those words that night were a breath of fresh air from the years of hearing how bad the state of the franchise was. And Ledecky kept his promise with all the off-ice amenities for the players and their families. But the one problem with the term “world class” is the results need to be seen on the ice as well as on it. With the season ending yesterday and the team missing the playoffs, it can be said that Ledecky has not lived up to his word, and granted he’s only been here one year and is fairly new.
But the Isles owner can start fresh on making this franchise world-class by doing one thing this summer: parting ways with general manager Garth Snow.
In Snow’s tenure as GM since 2006, the Islanders have made the playoffs four times and only passed the first round once in 2015-16. Now it’s understandable that Snow was given a very difficult situation to deal with after the team snuck in to the playoffs in 2006 and were in a rebuild up until 2011. But in the past six years, the mistakes Garth Snow has made make the clear case for Ledecky to wish him well in his future endeavors.
He made the huge mistake of not building off the Islanders first playoff appearance since 2006-07 after the 2012-13 season where his team bowed out to the Pittsburgh Penguins in an exhilarating six-game series in round one. Snow did trade former 2010 fifth-overall pick Nino Neiderreiter for Cal Clutterbuck to make the team tougher, but the argument still stands to this day that he traded a potential 30-goal guy a season for a fourth line player. He made no moves after that while the rest of the division continued to get better.
Now, when he traded Matt Moulson and a first round pick for Thomas Vanek in the 2013-14 season, you can make the case that “he was going for it”. For three months though, it seemed like the deal was going to pay off, but Tavares got hurt in the Olympics and Vanek spurned Snow and the Isles on a large contract because of the team leaving for Brooklyn in the near future. On deadline day, Snow did his best to trade Vanek for something of value, but ended up being hosed by the Montreal Canadiens for a conditional second-round pick and no name prospect Sebastian Collberg who has never seen the NHL to this day. Panels in Canada were basically calling Snow and the franchise a joke, and in the sense they were.
Even after the tumultuous 2013-14 campaign, one major negative remained that outside of Thomas Vanek, Snow had never gone out to get John Tavares the help he needs to take his game and the team overall to the next level. He seemed to be starting to change his ways in the summer of 2015 when he traded for Jaroslav Halak to take over for the retiring Evgeni Nabakov, brought in two former 30-goal scorers in Mikhail Grabrovski and Nikolay Kulemin, and snagging both Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy just days before the season began. His diligence played off as the Islanders became one of the best teams in the league till the end of January, but things began to slip. At the trade deadline instead of getting another top-six forward, he instead went with Tyler Kennedy and back-up goaltender Michal Neuvirth. His team made the playoffs but were defeated in seven games in the Quarterfinals by the Washington Capitals, but neither Kennedy nor Neuvirth proved to bring any value.
Again, Snow made very little attempt in the off-season to build off the team’s best year since 1983 via free agency or trade. He brought in vets Marek Zidlicky and Steve Bernier for depth which were fine, but as the team succeeded and the trade deadline came around once again, Snow sat back as he’s done before and didn’t elevate his team only acquiring Shane Prince who was in AHL Binghamton from the Ottawa Senators. Prince was a nice addition as the team finally got to the second round before falling in five to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The 2016 off-season facing Snow was going to be the biggest to date in his tenure as general manager. Looking back now, he completely failed.
It’s been said that Snow didn’t even talk to Kyle Okposo or offer him any type of deal during the season or before free agency which was an insult. Garth slighted Frans Nielsen — who turned down more money from him and the Isles — to go play in Detroit because he decided to put all his eggs in the basket to somehow lure Steven Stamkos to Brooklyn. He replaced those two pieces with Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera. But his mismanagement of the franchise continued and it resulted in a season from hell.
From the beginning of this past season, Snow let the saga of a three-goalie tandem continue on from the season before basically spiting Jaroslav Halak and ruining J.F. Berube’s career. He let his loyalty get the best of him by not letting Jack Capuano go before December when the season was off the rails. It was even more questionable that Snow didn’t let go of Capuano earlier when in January he decided to make the move that he informed the media and the fans he wasn’t going to be a part of team’s future. As the team started to pull themselves out of the basement and make their run, he kept Jaroslav Halak from coming up from Bridgeport to help the team and an overworked Thomas Greiss. His reluctance to bring up Ryan Pulock to help the Isles abysmal power play — which has never been as good as they should be — could have helped the team make the playoffs instead of miss by one point. And as said before, the faith he put in Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome to finally produce consistently came back to bite him once again.
So now the team stands where they were three years ago, on the outside looking in, instead of playing for Stanley Cup. And on the verge of most likely the biggest summer in the history of the franchise, Garth Snow still reigns as the GM, but that should be the case no longer. With the way this season unfolded, it needed to be the last straw. 11 years is long enough and to have not gotten your franchise cornerstone any help or take the risks needed to make this team a Stanley Cup contender.
It’s time for this franchise to start over and it’s begins at the top. Showing Garth Snow the door would be the first domino to show that these guys will not accept mediocrity any longer.
“World class”? It’s now or never.