November 16, 2010

Well, At least He’s Better than Mike Milbury... but, hey, Isn't Everyone?

The before: "He told me that if I didn't become gm he would beat me up. Wouldn't you take him seriously???"
Goaltender Garth Snow arguably had one good year in the NHL. It’s ironic on so many levels that it was his first as a general manager.

Snow was actually named the NHL’s Executive of the Year by Sports Illustrated in 2006-2007, a season that saw the Islanders get into the playoffs by the skin of their teeth, but get in all the same, thanks in part to several moves made by Snow.

For example, he traded for Richard Zednik and even acquired Ryan Smyth in that infamous deal that saw the Edmonton Oilers acquire Ryan O’Marra, Robert Nilsson, and a first-round pick in 2007. Nilsson was bought out this summer and O’Marra has yet to make good on all the hype that projects him to be a third-liner at best in the NHL (oh, but what a third-liner!). Even signing Rick DiPietro to that insane 15-year deal at the start of the season seemed like it had worked out, with the goalie posting a solid 32-19-9 record that year.

Add in the acquisitions of Viktor Kozlov (before he realized the KHL was where “it” was at; no word yet on what “it” is... possibly rampant prostitution and corruption), Richard Park (the heart of Seoul), and Mike Dunham (clearly to take over Snow’s place as the team’s go-to, over-the-hill benchwarmer... until Wade Dubielewicz replaced him as the team’s token journeyman back-up) and Snow actually turned that team into a legitimate (playoff) contender that was able to sneak into the post-season with a shootout victory over the New Jersey Devils. 

Granted the Islanders had a 2-0 lead late in the third period in that game, gave up the game-tying goal with one second left, but that was when the Devils were actually good, you see. All in all, it was an impressive feat... that is, until they ran into the Buffalo Sabres in the first round and promptly packed their bags en route to three seasons of futility.

Add in the concussion DiPietro suffered with a handful of games left in the regular season that year (before returning for game two of the first-round series), which triggered the wave of injuries that would soon define his career, and all the success Snow enjoyed that year was all for naught. But it was the decision to fire Ted Nolan as head coach back in 2008 and hire Scott Gordon that brings it all full-circle.

Nolan may not have been hired by Snow, but Snow did hand him his walking papers when the two reportedly got into a disagreement over the direction of the team. Nolan wanted to try to win then, while Snow wanted him to give more ice time to the team’s younger players, prompting Snow to reach out to Gordon.

Fast forward two years later and Gordon, whose team is mired in a 10-game losing streak, has gotten the axe as well, for, one has to assume, doing what he was told in the first place: try to develop the team’s young talent.

It really isn’t his fault the team is a few years away from competing. It’s not his fault the team’s best defenseman in Mark Streit got injured before the start of the year, and that Kyle Okposo, one of the team’s best goal scorers, followed suit right after that. It’s also not his fault that the team’s defensive corps is made up of a bunch of AHLers, with the exception of James Wisniewski, who sometimes does act like he is in the AHL (we’ll also give you Mark Eaton and Radek Martinek, but that’s it). It’s certainly not his fault that the goaltending tandem of which he was made the beneficiary comprises one guy who has 911 on his speed dial for injury concerns and another who does in case his aging heart gives out.

The Islanders, when one sums it up, are a bad team. They have promise, but they are bad right now. No coach will fix that... unless you manage to hire a witch or wizard of something, but how realistic is that? Halloween has passed and few are readily available. And, unless Jack Capuano has some deep dark secret and a cauldron in his basement, his hiring will only lead to more failure.

Snow has made a few good moves this season, picking up Michael Grabner off waivers, for instance, and even prying Wisniewski away from the Anaheim Ducks for a mere third-round pick (which does lead one to believe magic of some sort was involved somehow), but it’s his axing of Gordon that is front and center, and so it should be. Snow hired him and, with his departure, Snow just looks like a huge hypocrite.
The after: "Four years??? It feels like 40!!!"
It’s hard to tell how much of what Snow actually does is ordered from eccentric owner Charles Wang, but more and more it’s Snow that is seen as the face of the organization, especially with it sinking into more and more dysfunction. Anyone can draft John Tavares, but few can build a team around him. The last time I checked, that was the gm’s department and not the coach’s.

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