Will Garth Snow Get a Second Chance at GM Job?

It’s been over a year since Garth Snow was removed as New York Islanders team president and general manager in favour of Lou Lamoriello. Snow sightings in an official Islanders capacity have been limited to the 2018 Draft ever since. But could the senior advisor to the president and general manager emerge as a legitimate GM candidate for another NHL team in the future?

Snow’s tenure in New York was a mixed bag. He ascended to the GM position in a bizarre set of circumstances when he was hired by owner Charles Wang. He proceeded to make an aggressive push for the playoffs during his first year at the helm by trading for Ryan Smyth before embarking on what seemed to be the never-ending rebuild.

Garth Snow (right) and Charles Wang had an interesting relationship while operating the Islanders. (THW Archives)

Frustration Abounds

Islander fans became so frustrated with the plight of the team during the 2017-18 season that billboards were bought encouraging ownership to fire Snow. The disgruntled public was frustrated with the team’s lack of on-ice success and only three postseason appearances under Snow’s watch. So why would another team consider him for a vacant position?

Early in his tenure Snow was saddled with a team that spent to the salary cap floor and that didn’t change much over his tenure. That wasn’t his fault. With former owner Charles Wang hemorrhaging money and an inability to attract free agents other than players on their last pair of skates, hard decisions needed to be made. The team’s prospect pool needed to be rebuilt and the course was set to tear the team down.

Snow’s drafting record was middling over his tenure, he whiffed on some early picks but made some marvelous picks in the later rounds like snagging Anders Lee in the sixth round of the NHL draft, or heart and soul Islander Matt Martin as a fifth-rounder. Snow had a knack for trading at the draft table as well, acquiring the likes of Brock Nelson and Calvin De Haan by moving up on draft day, and trading back to acquire additional assets before picking Josh Bailey. He had the good fortune to select John Tavares first overall despite conjecture Matt Duchene or Victor Hedman could be taken with that pick.

New York Islanders Anders Lee
New York Islanders’ Anders Lee was drafted in the sixth round by Garth Snow. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Making Winning Trades

His record in making trades was above average when he did decide to make them. His early first-round mistakes were turned into assets. Griffin Reinhart was moved for the pick that turned into Matt Barzal. Ryan Strome was moved for Jordan Eberle. Picks and prospects that haven’t amounted too much at the NHL level turned into Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk. Even his trade of Nino Niederreiter for Cal Clutterbuck can be rationalized.

He made the right call in letting free agent Kyle Okposo walk and caught a blessing when Frans Nielsen wanted a new experience. He blundered in opening the vault for Andrew Ladd, but every GM has one of those skeletons in their closet. He has shown a knack for signing young developing players to team-friendly deals. Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech come to mind most recently. Even Tavares’ bridge deal was considered the best value in the league.

The surprising 2018-19 season for the Islanders was a team built with players acquired by Snow. They finished fifth overall after losing generational talent Tavares to the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent. Lamoriello’s key acquisitions to what was already in place were bringing back Martin in a trade and adding Robin Lehner, Valteri Filppula and Leo Komarov as free agent signings.

New York Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech
New York Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech is beginning to blossom into a top four defender. (AP Photo/Noah K. Murray

Coaching Neophytes Spells Trouble

The 2006-07 Sports Illustrated NHL Executive of the Year’s, largest shortcoming as GM was never hiring an experienced coach to guide the team. After dismissing a coach he inherited in Ted Nolan after his second season, he hired first-time NHL coaches Scott Gordon, Jack Capuano and finally Doug Weight.

Imagine if Snow had hired Barry Trotz instead of the Washington Capitals in 2014 when he became available. Would the Islanders have won a Stanley Cup with Tavares? Even if it wasn’t Trotz, there were plenty of experienced NHL coaches that would have accelerated the team’s rebuild. If Snow has learned any one thing this past season in watching the Islanders on-ice product, that hiring an experienced coach at the right time is the difference between rebuilding and contending.

Time for a Second Chance

Interestingly, Ron Hextall, the former GM of the Philadelphia Flyers, has been linked to the GM opening in Minnesota and is considered a team builder. During his tenure with the Flyers though he has been accused of not making significant moves and being overly patient. Yet many pundits tout his ability as a GM despite his own spotty record. It is only a matter of time before Hextall gets a new opportunity.

Also, Peter Chiarelli’s name has appeared in the GM search in Minnesota. This is the same Chiarelli that floundered in Edmonton in making bad trades and questionable free-agent singings like Milan Lucic. Other previous GM’s John Ferguson Jr., Dave Nonis, Brian Lawton, Mike Gillis and Dean Lombardi are names also being cast in the wide Minnesota net along with several fresh faces looking for their first GM jobs.

Garth Snow New York Islanders
Will Garth Snow get a second chance as a general manager in the NHL? (THW file photo)

I wonder why Snow’s name hasn’t come up for any vacant GM job? His record as a GM who skated off the practice ice into the front office was just as good as any of the previously mentioned suspects not named Lombardi. He has had time to reflect on his tenure in New York and to understand what went wrong and what went well. He has the ability to kick-start a rebuild and restock a prospect pool as evidenced on Long Island.

Snow deserves a second opportunity no matter how Islander fans feel about him. What team has the willingness and guts to make that call? If given that opportunity he certainly has the ability to succeed.