Can you believe it’s been 10 years since Garth Snow retired as an NHL goaltender and immediately moved into the GM’s chair on the Island? At the time it just seemed the latest spasm of insanity from a complete basketcase of an organization that the Islanders were under Charles Wang at times. It always felt like something that would be quickly corrected once someone with any kind of sense finally bought the Isles. Well, that took 10 years and Snow is still here (and Wang wasn’t actually the huge goof he played at being when he first arrived on the scene, though he had goof tendencies).
What became even more surprising is that Snow turned out to be not terrible at his job, or at least not every aspect of it. Which was stunning considered he didn’t serve any kind of apprenticeship or training. He basically took off the gear and there was a suit under it.
The first thing to notice about Snow is that his drafting record has actually been pretty decent. It’s not perfect, but Snow has drafted the following at least productive NHL-ers: Josh Bailey, Travis Hamonic, Matt Martin, Jared Spurgeon, John Tavares, Calvin de Haan, Casey Cizikas, Anders Lee, Nino Neiderreiter, Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome. There is still a good amount of hope around names like Griffin Reinhart, Ville Pokka, Ryan Pulock, Josh Ho-Sang, Matthew Barzal (who was drafted with the pick gotten for Reinhart), Anthony Beauvillier has cracked the Isles lineup at 19. It’s a decent list.
Snow has also had his successes in the trade market, notably fleecing the financially desperate Hawks and Bruins for Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk. There have been some sneaky signings for value in Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski, before his brain turned to mush.
The Isles have made the playoffs three of the past four years, which is something they’ve only done twice in the past 20 years. Yes, this is a streak of success for the Isles. Sometimes you need to realize how good you’ve got it.
Still, the Isles have had a horrible season, and coming off two 100+ point seasons and their first playoff win since 1993, they’re losing a lot more than points and games. Considering the problems with the building in Brooklyn and getting anyone to go to it, you wonder how much it would take for the Isles to be in real trouble if they don’t turn things around sharpish.
It’s not hard to pinpoint where Snow went wrong. The decision to let Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo walk made some sense, as in the next two offseasons Snow is going to have to make contract decisions on de Haan, Strome, Nelson, Bailey, and most importantly, Tavares. Keeping the powder dry was logical.
Except he didn’t, and he soaked the powder with declining hockey waters (ok, that totally didn’t work but just go with me here). He brought in Andrew Ladd, who has been in decline for two years at least, for only 500K less than Okposo got from the Sabres and is three years older. . While Strome or Nelson should have been able to pick up the slack of the departing Nielsen, who is on the wrong side of 30 as Ladd is, a good portion of the money that could have kept Nielsen around and still be useful was just handed to Cal Fucking Clutterbuck.
Snow hasn’t scouted his own system the best way either, because Clutterbuck arrived for Neiderreiter, who might be the most underrated player in the league (and yes, you have to find words with double r’s when talking about Nino). He didn’t sign Spurgeon. We’ll see how the Reinhart deal goes.
It’s not totally Snow’s fault that Lee, Nelson, and Strome just haven’t taken the next step yet, but he’s going to have to find kids who will. Snow hasn’t been able to find a true #1 d-man, as Hamonic falls just short of that benchmark. Did he miss his window on a Trouba-for-Hamonic deal?
The Isles aren’t pointing north either. They’re a terrible possession team, and a terrible defensive team, ranking in the bottom five in both team-Corsi and team-xGF%. And what’s really hanging over the whole organization is where Tavares’s head is. He’ll be in the last year of his deal next season, and if he doesn’t see the promised land coming to Brooklyn anytime soon, is he going to want to stay?
And if he doesn’t, then what? The Isles don’t draw shit in Brooklyn, and there is no alternative at the moment. How long before they’re in serious trouble?
No pressure, Garth.