Would The Islanders Be Better Off With Neil Smith?

Garth Snow takes a lot of heat. When he was hired, everyone instantly made him the punch-line to every joke. The Islanders’ back-up goalie during the previous season was suddenly dictating the Islanders’ transactions. Admittedly, it was a quick turn of events, as the Islanders fired General Manager Neil Smith after his short 40-day tenure with the team.

Snow’s first year as Islanders’ GM led to a playoff-berth, which also happens to be the last time we have seen the Islanders play in the postseason. Since, Snow has been part of the “circus” on Long Island, and Islanders’ fans have often called for his replacement at the helm of the New York Islanders’ organization.

Personally, I also don’t think Garth Snow has done a bad job with what he’s had to work with. Many Islanders’ fans are excited because of the prospect pool they have acquired since the Islanders’ rebuild began, and all of them have been selected by Garth himself.

Now, for all of Snow’s critics, how would this team be if Neil Smith was still at the helm. He did leave the Isles with some body of work, although very small. Let’s take a look, and you decide if the Islanders would be in better hands than the ones they’re in now.

Neil Smith selected 13 players for the New York Islanders in 2006. In comparison, Garth Snow has selected 47 players since 2007.

Neil’s draft in 2006 broken down by round:

1st Round: Kyle Okposo
2nd Round: Jesse Joensuu
3rd Round: Robin Figren
4th Round: Rhett Rakhshani, Jase Weslosky, Tomas Marcinko, Doug Rogers
5th Round: Shane Sims, Kim Johansson
6th Round: Andrew MacDonald, Brian Day, Stefan Ridderwall
7th Round: Troy Mattila

There are several familiar names here. The biggest names are obviously Kyle Okposo, who was selected 7th-overall in 2006, and Andrew MacDonald, who has blossomed into a solid defenseman alongside Travis Hamonic.

Jesse Joensuu, Rhett Rakhshani, and Shane Sims (one period) have all seen NHL action. Robin Figren and Tomas Marcinko have seen time in the AHL, but are no longer with the organization.

Okposo, MacDonald, and Joensuu are all signed with the Islanders with one-way deals, with KO and A-Mac signed for the long-haul.

The jury is still out on Kyle Okposo, who scored 24 goals last season. Kyle registered 52 points in 2009-10, but then suffered a shoulder injury that held him out of 44 games in 2010-11. Kyle did not seem like the same player until the final stretch of the 2011-12 season, where he scored 9 goals and 1 assist in the last 9 games. This season was expected to be a big one for Kyle, who was finally past his shoulder injury, but the lockout has prevented Kyle, and Islanders’ fans, from establishing any conclusions on the Islanders’ forward who is signed for the next five seasons.

Now, of the thirteen players drafted by Neil Smith, only three have seen significant time in the NHL. That’s a 23% rate. Smith only drafted two NHL players, and possibly a third if Joensuu pans out.

For comparison, we look at Garth’s 2008 draft, which was his first full draft (2007 didn’t have a 1st or 2nd round pick).

The 2008 draft, like Smith’s draft in 2006, also featured 13 draft picks. Nine of those picks have seen time in the NHL, and six of them have been in big roles for their NHL club. Josh Bailey (1st round, 9th overall) has played nearly 300 NHL games with the New York Islanders. Travis Hamonic has been one of the Islanders’ top defenseman for the past two seasons. Matt Martin recently signed a 3-year extension after breaking the NHL single-season hits record. Other notables are David Ullstrom, Aaron Ness, and Kevin Poulin.

Also, Jared Spurgeon, who was let go by the Islanders, would be Ryan Suter’s defensive partner in Minnesota. He’s done well for himself, and would be the one prospect the Islanders truly made the mistake of letting go.

Since 2008, Garth also drafted 7 players in 2009 (6 of them have seen NHL time, and Anders Lee will make it 7-for-7), 6 players in 2010 (only Nino has made it, but Brock Nelson and Kirill Kabanov figure to be there), 8 players in 2011, and 7 players in 2012. The players from 2010-2012 are still a work in progress, but seem to have real NHL potential. Two players are currently in the AHL.

If we focus on 2008 and 2009, because those allow time for development, Snow has seen 15 of his 20 draft picks play hockey in the NHL. Two of the five who haven’t are no longer with the organization (David Toews and Jyri Niemi), and the other three (Kirill Petrov, Anders Lee, and Corey Trivino) are all expected to make it within the next season or two.

Snow has found success in the NHL draft, with 2008 and 2009 pulling a combined 75% current success rate, which figures to improve as the remaining players continue on track to reach the NHL. Neil Smith’s only draft has pulled together a 23% success rate, and seems likely to improve ONLY if Rhett Rakhshani (7 NHL games over 4 seasons) can find his way on to an NHL roster.

With prospects such as Ryan Strome, Griffin Reinhart, Brendan Kichton, Johan Sundstrom, Scott Mayfield, and Robbie Russo, Garth’s track record in the early and late stages of the draft look to continue receiving high grades.

Neil Smith has brought the Islanders 523 NHL games over 13 players. Garth Snow brought the Islanders 608 NHL games in the 2008 draft, and 738 NHL games total (Jared Spurgeon has played 130 games for the Minnesota Wild).

For all the criticism Garth Snow receives, he’s done a great job at the draft every June. It only figures to get better; so, when many of us look back and still want to know what it could have been it Neil was never fired from the Islanders, just remember this: the Islanders’ arena situation would have remained the same. The Islanders may not have made the trade bringing in Ryan Smyth, which helped the Islanders to the playoffs in 2006-07, and the Islanders would have likely still lost Jason Blake, Alexei Yashin, and the others that bolted in the off-season. There’s also no guarantee the Islanders would have the same prospects they have now, including John Tavares, Ryan Strome, and all the difficult late round decisions Garth had to make, such as fan-favorite Matt Martin.

The Islanders are in good hands. Garth’s success in the NHL Draft will lead to success for the New York Islanders. There’s no arguing Neil Smith found a gem in Andrew MacDonald, and Kyle Okposo has been a productive NHL player, but 2 out of 13 are Mike Milbury-like numbers. The Islanders don’t need drafts for majority of the players fall into obscurity. The Islanders need players that can be successful in the NHL, and Garth’s philosophy of “pick the best player available” has given the Islanders the best chance to succeed in the long-run.

When the Islanders go back to the playoffs, fans will be watching household names that were called by Garth Snow (or Kevin Connolly) at the NHL Draft.

Follow @ChrisTriants

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About the Author: Writes at Islanders Op-Timism. Islanders Season Ticket Holder who tends to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Hofstra Graduate currently working at Portnoy, Messinger, Pearl & Associates. I definitely want to end up working within the world of hockey. Blog: www.IslandersOptimism.com E-Mail: ChristopherTriantafilis@gmail.com Twitter: @ChrisTriants

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  1. justin says:

    Good post. Two corrections:

    Alexi Yashin did not “bolt” – he was bought out of his contract which should be viewed as an accomplishment for Garth Snow

    And, this is not really a correction but an opinion: I don’t think you can chalk Corey Trivino up as being on his way to the NHL given his past legal troubles and current situation (unsigned by Isles, playing for Florida Everblades of the ECHL and not producing points at that level.)

    I agree that Garth Snow’s track record is pretty good when it comes to drafting (even though most of his picks are still too young to completely judge) but, Neil Smith’s one draft as GM of the Isles was also impressive – If any NHL team knew they would come out of a particular draft with one top 6 forward (KO) and one top 4 D (MacDonald) they would take it every time. Plus, I think Joensuu may end up being a good depth guy and Rhakshani an AHL tweener who can provide offense in brief spurts when called upon…

    Also, keep in mind that Neil Smith was able to lure some quality free agents to the Island working under the same constraints Garth Snow has always had; Brendan Witt, Mike Sillinger, Tom Poti, Viktor Kozlov were all good signings that helped lead us to the playoffs and that Garth Snow has not replicated during his tenure.

    • ChrisTriants says:

      Thank you for reading, and for the comment.

      Yes, Alexei did get bought out. By “bolt,” I guess I meant just not with the team.

      Regarding Corey, he has 5 goals and 8 assists in 22 games. He may not be there quite yet, but I would think it remains to be his goal, and that some team will give him a chance. His legal troubles are existent, but I will not count Corey out from being a future NHL player, even if he shows up in stints.

      Regarding Neil, I don’t agree. Yes, he signed free agents, but it also needs to be noted that the Islanders “circus” began as soon as Garth became GM. It was at that point where players stopped coming to the Island, and where the arena situation became the focal point of everything. Garth has brought in Moulson, Grabner, and several other players that have brought production to the Isles, and while the Islanders made the playoffs with Smith’s free agents, Garth orchestrated the trade that brought Ryan Smyth to the Island at the deadline. I am excited on what Garth may do, now that he has a selling point for the Islanders.

      Regarding the draft, I don’t believe Kyle Okposo has proved to be a top-six scorer yet. He needs to score goals when they matter, and not 9 in the last 9 games of a season where his team is already out of the playoffs. 25 goals is great on paper, but he had 16 when the Islanders were at game 73 of the season. I think, as of now, AMac has been the best player out of that draft. Jesse Joenssuu might become a solid player, but it’s been 6 years now. I fully expect him to be a 15-goal scorer, though…just not proven yet. You will probably never see Rhett in an Isles uniform again, and his offensive has contributed 0 points in the NHL. He is not an NHL player, but yes, AHL tweener is probably the best term for him.

      Again, thanks for reading.

      • KO21 says:

        I think people are a bit too hard on KO. He came up as a teenager and was expected to do anything and everything under Scott Gordon. Much of his 2nd season KO was the most noticeable forward on the ice, game in and game out. That’s when he became Ok”POSTO” for hitting 100,000,000 posts and only 19 went in the goal. I’ve seen KO in beast mode many times in his 2nd full season. Isles fans were excited for KO’s 3rd full season but he got hurt in the off season and had major shoulder surgery. He had to miss most of his 3rd season and when his 4th season started he looked lost which is kind of understandable. He was under a new system with a bad coach getting over major surgery to his upper body. But after an atrocious start I would say KO had a pretty good 2nd half. Not just a good last 10 games. He was solid from the point after he was scratched for 3 games. Since then he looked like a different player. That’s where I wish we had a coach like Torts. He wouldn’t wait so long, where his confidence is totally shot, before he scratched KO and he probably wouldn’t have over done it with 3 games straight. I would say 1 or 2 is plenty to send a message. If that doesn’t work then you try more games but Cappy sucks at the accountability front. I blame that on the organization as a whole. Its the culture of losing

        • ChrisTriants says:

          I’ll say this. I’m excited to see KO this season, especially now that he’s definitely 100% healed. I thought he was an absolute animal in his second season, and unfortunately he lost out on his third. I think he can be a 30-goal scorer, but we just need to see it happen first. Is he a second-line winger? On the Islanders, yes. Does he need to show some more production? Yes, but that goes for everyone outside of JT and Moulson. Expect 15 goals in this shortened season, and be very excited about it.

          Also, I think Capuano is absolutely terrible, but Torts would be a monster here. If you want to shake the young guys confidence on this team, bring him in. I used to watch Torts when I was down in Tampa frequently, and it was a very love/hate attitude with the team and his fans. The second the Rangers find a slump, Torts will be questioned. He won a Cup, which I would love to have, but the Islanders aren’t at the right stage for a coach like him yet, although they need a more qualified coach. I always liked the idea of David Payne, but that’s just me.

          But yeah, driving home from the Coliseum and listening to Cappy say “we played hard” every night through December killed. I don’t want him here, and I would assume there’s a short leash, but he will coach through this season. After that, who knows.

          • KO21 says:

            I appreciate what you’re saying about Torts being a bit to hard for young guys. I agree about Cappy. I got tired of hearing him say “Im pleased with the effort” after every loss. I would be thinking what the heck is there to be pleased about? I have a feeling that Cappy is a great guy but sometimes great guys finish last. Sometimes nice guys have a tough time showing tough love, sort of speak…

    • KO21 says:

      I used to think the same thing but when I think about it the move to buy out Yashon seemed like garths attempt to show Ryan Smyth this would be his team and not Yashins anymore. That backfired and he bolted. So the question I have is how in hell is it a good thing that Yashin was bought out? I would have preferred to have him on the ice over guys like Rolston and Pandolpho who weree paid just to be cap mules. AT least Yashin would provide some talent along with the salary against the cap.

      • ChrisTriants says:

        This might come as a shock, but I actually liked Alexei Yashin, and I think he was bought out a year too late. He had a decent year during his final one in the NHL. I have also been an advocate of having him back as a 2nd-line centre each time those rumors swirl again. Maybe I’m sick, but while the Islanders haven’t had a guy for that 2nd-line, I’ve thought Yashin would be nice. Now, like the buyout, it’s a little late, but I think the Islanders would have benefited from Alexei’s presence on the team since 2007.

        The Alexei move was probably a bit for Ryan Smyth, and a bit for the Islanders fans who wouldn’t get off his back since 2002-03. Alexei is still friends with Wang, and still skates at IceWorks.

        • KO21 says:

          You are not sick. When you look back at it, it made NO SENSE to buy him out. At the time it happened I was all for it because I really thought Garth had some sort of plan to keep Smyth, Kozlov, and Blake, etc. That did not happen. It was like a mass exodus. Instead we ended up wit Comrie and Guering. The bottom line is we definitely could’ve used Yashins services over the last few years. Paying him against the cap with no player to help the team does NOTHING to benefit this organizations causes, IMHO.

          • ChrisTriants says:

            Yeah, and it’s not like we would have been in cap trouble if we kept him. Yashin would have helped this team a little bit (at least provided some scoring) over the past few years. Islanders would have had two solid-lines. I love Frans, but he’s best fit as a 3rd-line centre. Probably one of the best in the game there, too.

      • ChrisTriants says:

        Also, it’s been a while, but nice to have you back here at Hockey Independent.

  2. BD says:

    Drafts would be exact mirrors. Why? Because the guy Neil Smith brought in did the draft when he was there and has been doing them since. Just a FYI. Drafts would not have changed one iota except maybe when someone was same level… Choice A or B.

    • ChrisTriants says:

      I see what you’re saying, but I disagree. Garth Snow made several trades at these drafts. Garth Snow accumulated draft picks, and swapped draft positions, which helped the Islanders draft players such as Travis Hamonic and Brock Nelson. Who’s to say Neil Smith would have traded back for Josh Bailey? Sure, Bailey isn’t perfect, but maybe Neil would have drafted Nikita Filatov.

      I see what you’re saying in regards to Neil’s guy being there. So, Brock might have always been on the Islanders board, and same goes for Bailey, and so on, but does Garth have no influence on these trades? Maybe Neil flips positions with another team. Choice A and Choice B could be all the difference. Vincent Lecavalier or Nik Antropov? Nathan Horton or Eric Staal?

      Thanks, BD.

  3. KO21 says:

    Just because Garths draft picks played on the Isles NHL team doesn’t make him successful. I believe that is a huge advantage for draftees that come to the Isles as apposed to a team like the Wings. If you come to the Isles and you are decent enough you have a good chance of getting a chance with the NHL club. If these kids were on many other teams they would never have seen the ice. I don’t think there are many GM’s that have a 75% success rate. That is rediulously good but he really isnt that good, IMHO. I think normal GMs are closer to 10 or 20%. Thats closer to Niel Smiths grade of 23%.

    • ChrisTriants says:

      OK, I can see where you’re going. It’s true, a lot of players that have seen the Islanders may not have seen time with another NHL team as of yet, but I also don’t know how many you can argue don’t deserve to be there. Sure, they may not have a prominent role on another team, but I couldn’t say that David Ullstrom, Casey Cizikas, Travis Hamonic, and Matt Martin are not NHLers. Even Jared Spurgeon, who was a late pick and went to another club, is expected to be paired with Ryan Suter. I think with the cards Garth was dealt, which is the same reason Neil was fired, Garth has done a good job. We need results now, but he’s gathered a good deal of prospects, and a few nice pick-ups in Moulson and Grabner. If the Islanders make the playoffs with a home-grown team, Snow needs to get all the credit. Whether these guys wouldn’t have been starters on another team is a different convo, and I guess the current one for now, but if they make the playoffs with their guys, Snow has done a superb job rebuilding this team. If not in this lockout shortened 2013 season, I would fully expect them to be moving up in 2013-14 when the next group of prospects arrive.

  4. KO21 says:

    I hope you’re right. :)