Garth Snow went from backup goaltender one day to Islanders general manager the next as Charles Wang fired Neil Smith just six weeks after hiring him back in the summer of 2006. Wang’s firing of Smith, who was the architect of the 1994 Rangers Stanley Cup, resulted in former Isles great Pat LaFontaine, hired as a senior adviser to resign. Smith was hired by Wang the same day as then head coach Ted Nolan. Was this the mid 90s Islanders?
Smith was upset with Wang’s philosophy that the front office would be run as a committee. Smith protested, Wang showed him the door. When the dust settled, Snow was running the front office. Wang sang Snow’s praises following the hire.
Garth knows the league as well as anyone, has an eye for talent and understands how our staff works as a team. Most importantly, Garth is a man of integrity, someone I trust will work hard, be creative and represent the Islanders with dignity
Flash forward to February 2007, the Islanders were in the thick of the playoff race. Snow had some decisions to make. First whether to trade leading scorer Jason Blake, who was set to become an unrestricted free agent July 1st or any of their other impending UFAs (Tom Poti, Viktor Kozlov, Chris Simon, Randy Robitaille). He decided to go all in. He acquired forward Richard Zednik from the Capitals for a 2007 2nd-round pick. Snow also saw an opening thanks to the Edmonton Oilers. Edmonton and their captain, Ryan Smyth could not agree on a contract extension. Smyth was the type of player Snow coveted, a 30-goal scorer who can also lead. A type of player the team thought they were getting a decade ago in Kirk Muller. The deal was announced just after the trade deadline. Smyth was watching television at home when he heard the news. “Captain Canada” held an emotional press conference at the airport.
Snow sent two of former general manager Mike Milbury’s picks in 2003 first-rounder Robert Nilsson and 2005 first-rounder Ryan O’Marra. Snow also included the 2007 first-round pick, his first as a GM. The Islanders went 8-7-4 following the trade and snuck into the playoffs on the last day of the regular season. Smyth had five goals and 15 points with the Islanders. New York bowed out to the Buffalo Sabres in five games. Smyth had a goal and three assists in the five games.
Snow made it his top priority to re-sign Smyth, although no one thought he could succeed. On July 1, 2007 the Colorado Avalanche signed Smyth to a five-year deal worth $31.5 million dollars. The lost of Smyth was only the beginning. The July 1st purge included most of their UFAs (Poti, Kozlov, Robitaille) including leading-scorer Blake who signed a five-year deal worth $20 million dollars. The team responded by signing Jon Sim to a three-year deal worth three million dollars. Sim injured his knee after playing two games and missed the remainder of the season.
It would seem on paper that Snow gave up a lot for Smyth, two former first-round picks and an upcoming first-round pick. The Oilers selected defenseman Alex Plante with the 15th overall pick in the 2007 draft. Plante played a grand total of ten games over three seasons and is currently playing overseas. Nilsson scored 31 goals in four seasons in Edmonton is also playing overseas. O’Marra scored one goal in 31 career NHL games. Snow had no emotional attachment to Nilsson and O’Marra. He knew their ceiling was not high and was quick to move them. The July 1, 2007 purge basically started the rebuild. A rebuild without a first or second round pick.
I said when I made the trade to acquire Ryan from Edmonton that it’s a deal I’d do over and over again. My feelings on the move to bring Ryan Smyth to Long Island have not changed.
Flash forward to present day, Snow is at another crossroads, should he part with a piece of his future, players he drafted, for a potential rental? Should he trade impending UFA Kyle Okposo or let him walk this July 1st? Snow did next to nothing the last two trade deadlines that the team made the playoffs. If the Islanders fail to advance in the playoffs for the time since 1993, Snow’s job may be in jeopardy.
Noel Fogelman is a 5-time Emmy Winner and started his career working on the Buffalo Sabres Pre and postgame shows for the Empire Sports Network. He then went to Bristol, CT to work at ESPN on NHL2Night and its coverage of the Stanley Cup. Follow me on Twiter @thefirstnoel19