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Five years of Garth Snow as Isles general manager: Are things getting better?

Jul 18, 2011, 10:43 PM EDT

Garth Snow Getty Images

When Garth Snow took over as the Islanders general manager in the summer of 2006, things on Long Island were as tumultuous and dramatic as ever. As the team looked to move on from former GM Mike Milbury, they’d hired ex-Rangers GM Neil Smith to take the reins. Instead, after just six weeks, Smith was let go and the former goaltender Snow got the call to take over.

Since then, it’s been a wild, up and down ride for Snow filled with its share of controversy in handling former head coaches Ted Nolan and Scott Gordon, having to work around Rick DiPietro‘s contract as well as Alexei Yashin’s buyout, and now navigating the free agent waters with a team that’s still below the salary floor Snow’s job is high profile for a lot of the wrong reasons.  While Snow got the Islanders to the playoffs in his first year as GM thanks to acquiring Ryan Smyth, it hasn’t been all rainbows and sunshine as the team has missed the playoffs for four straight seasons.

What Snow can deal with, however, is what he’s trying to put together for the future. With future stars like draftees John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Calvin de Haan, and 2011 first round pick Ryan Strome on down to acquisitions like Michael Grabner, Matt Moulson, and Mark Streit slowly but surely things are coming together. With how coach Jack Capuano was able to put things together for the Islanders after a horrible start last season under Scott Gordon, things are positive all over Long Island now and Snow told all about why it’s got him excited too. The big reason is John Tavares.

Q: Are you happy with the way he’s developed in his first two years? Is it easy to forget sometimes that he is only 20?

GS: He’s been a high-end player, not only for us but in the League. When you see that he’s only 20 years old, it’s pretty exciting to see what he’s accomplished in his two years in the NHL. I absolutely have to remember sometimes that he’s just 20 — and it’s not just John, but the other young players that we have. They are 20, 21, 22 years old, and that’s young for a hockey player. We obviously are excited about the season coming up, but we’re also excited about what the future brings.

Q: How important is this season? You’ve missed the playoffs four years running, you’ve built up a nice core of talent. How important is it, if not to make the playoffs, to at least to contend for a spot?

GS: Everyone in the locker room is committed to getting this team to the next level. It’s a situation where we wish the season was starting tomorrow.

Getting into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference, fortunately for Snow, is seen as being a bit easier to do. Last season saw the Tampa Bay Lightning go from being nearly a lottery team picking sixth in the 2010 NHL Draft to finishing fifth in the East and make it all the way to the Eastern Conference finals. A lot of that had to do with the work both GM Steve Yzerman and coach Guy Boucher put in, but it also goes to show how quickly things can happen in the East.

Working against Snow’s Islanders is playing in one of the toughest divisions in the NHL. Having to go up against the likes of the Rangers, Devils, Flyers, and Penguins makes life miserable having to play those teams so many times. The NHL’s Pacific Division last year showed that virtually an entire division can make the playoffs (sorry Dallas, you had a fair shot) so anything is possible.

Snow’s Islanders will require better health from all players and better goaltending than they got most of the year. Injuries can’t usually be helped one way or another, but goaltending can be fixed. With DiPietro’s albatross contract they’ll need to find a way to keep him healthy and mix in Al Montoya when necessary.

That’s asking a lot, but with the Islanders missing the playoffs for four straight seasons and an arena issue that will be solved one way or another, the pressure is on for Snow’s rebuilding project to show major strides next season. If they play as hard as they did in the second half of last season, challenging for a playoff spot and even squeaking in as the eighth seed is within reason. The Isles will be good in time, it’s just a matter of when.

  1. greatminnesotasportsmind - Jul 18, 2011 at 11:18 PM

    No, the Isles are still a terrible team, in a terrible building, with a terrible coach, with terrible players, and terrible fans. The only thing that has changed is Garth (nice name by the way) has pissed off every WCHA coach in college hockey by signing players during the middle of their season.

    • trbowman - Jul 18, 2011 at 11:48 PM

      The Islanders do not have terrible fans.

  2. ikedavisnose - Jul 19, 2011 at 1:28 AM

    Don’t u dare make fun of us islander fans I mean who do u like

  3. bwayblues79 - Jul 19, 2011 at 9:07 AM

    I think he’s done a good job. There was no question that the Islanders needed to be on a long-term rebuilding plan, so after some questionable long-term signings by the organization, Snow turned things around by stockpiling draft picks and snatching up some high-quality free agents. They’ve been quiet this offseason, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them snatch up one or two good goal scorers after the second round of buyouts occur.

    Their biggest issue right now is the situation in goal. Montoya played reasonably well in his time with the Islanders last season. I believe he should be the starting goaltender, though it would be an even more difficult pill to swallow if you bench your 100-year netminder. DiPietro is often injured and was slightly below average (at best) when he wasn’t the last two years. Frankly, I don’t know that there is anything DiPietro will contribute beyond what we’ve already seen. Montoya has no playoff history, which some could argue is in his favor when you look at breakout rookie performances in seasons past by guys like Niemi and Ward, but Montoya has more pro games under his belt than those guys had and there’s nothing in Al’s history to indicate he’s a Game Seven thief-in-waiting. Still, crazier things have happened.

    Everyone agrees that the Islanders have a crappy building. But you must give credit to their fans for sticking it out all these years. There are still a lot of fans, and will be even more old fans dusting off their jerseys if and when the team can put a good season together. The team showed signs last year. As a Rangers fan, I want the old rivalry back. This Rangers-Devils rivalry is second rate. Potvin sucks!

  4. cshearing - Jul 19, 2011 at 9:17 AM

    Not going to rag on the fans, but I have no faith in Snow. Remember, he was the one in power when DiPietro got that deal. Truthfully, I put the bulk of the blame on the owner. He does not know hockey, and when your owner is that bad, the lack of confidence in the organization is palpable.

  5. derpdederpdederp - Jul 19, 2011 at 11:46 AM

    hard to believe hes a worse GM than a goalie. when he so cruelly ended Nabokov’s NHL comeback for no discernable reason it kinda cemented the fact he has no clue what hes doing or what hes supposed to be doing

    • ThatGuy - Jul 19, 2011 at 1:19 PM

      Cruelly ended Nabokov’s comeback? Ya, doing something completly within the rules to try and improve your team is cruel. The only reason it was “Cruel” was because it was the Red Wings that he was alledgedly stolen from. No one said one word when Svatos was claimed by Nashville from the Blues, was that cruel of Poile to do? Or how about when the Sharks claimed Wellwood after the Blues signed him? Are those GMs awful human being because of it? Its part of the rules, people don’t like it than change the rule. But Snow was just trying to make his team better.

      • derpdederpdederp - Jul 20, 2011 at 11:19 AM

        as a goalie nabokov is in the twilight of his career. he wants a chance at a stanley cup and thats gonna come with the red wings, not the isles. thats not the case with any of your examples. and if you think nabokov would help the islanders even a little then i want some of what youre smoking. this team is still a long way from “respectable” let alone “contender” and adding a veteran goalie wont bring them near either

  6. kingjoe1 - Jul 19, 2011 at 1:19 PM

    No of course not, he is ill-prepared, mentally, to compete with the majority of GM’s. Last years little game with Nabokov was a great example of his mental-midgitdom.

    By playing a game with a man’s career in Nabokov, Snow hurt Nabokov, the organization and himself.

    Nabokov lost possibly his last chance to get a cup, and a chance he will never get back. Snow showed his immaturity and demostrated to players in general that the Islander organization thinks of players purely as commodities, instead of human beings.

    He should have been fired the day he pulled this little stunt, and at the very least by now.

    • ThatGuy - Jul 19, 2011 at 1:33 PM

      Again, Snow was simly trying to improve his team as his goalies were in rough shape. The waiver’s are there for a reason, so wink and nod deals to send players to europe cannot happen. If Nabokov wanted to play in Detroit, he should have signed there as a FA prior to the season. Snow did absolutely nothing wrong. If Nabokov wanted to continue his career he should have sucked it up, finished his season and became a FA.

      • derpdederpdederp - Jul 21, 2011 at 12:11 AM

        it’s too bad most of you people didn’t start watching hockey until after the lockout. posts like this make it clear that you still dont fully understand the game. snow straight up ended Nabokov’s NHL career in what can only be considered a classless move, yet you think because it’s within the rules its perfectly ok and many people agree with you for some reason. just because the move was within the rules doesn’t make it any less ridiculous or classless on Snow’s part and the fact you people don’t understand that is confusing to say the least

  7. donttouchthedirtypenny - Jul 19, 2011 at 9:31 PM


  8. kingjoe1 - Jul 21, 2011 at 1:10 PM

    In the real world, winning everytime in business agreements, is not alway a win at all. For instance, hurting the reputation of the Islanders organization was not worth the chance Snow could squeeze a 2nd or 3rd rounder out of Detroit or Philly.
    Anyone who feel differently does not have enough business acumem to run a lemonaide stand.

  9. t16rich - Jul 22, 2011 at 10:56 AM

    I think so. Snow has drafted young players, and developed a solid young squad that really grew up last year. They obviouslly have issues on the roster. But considering not many veterans or stars would be willing to sign with them, I would say Snow has done a good job at getting young skilled guys playing time. It’s just too bad fans dont show up anymore to try and support. Especially since they are trying a resurgance. Islanders are one of those franchises I never want to see move. But on some nights they only get 3000 fans at a game. They dont deserve a team if thats the case. If you cant fill an old building, how will you fill a new one?

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