Imagine you had a job with zero accountability. You went in to work when you wanted to, you did whatever you wanted to all day, you reported all of the nothing you did to your boss and he approved, and you got paid.
You’re imagining the life Garth Snow leads.
A general manager of a team is a person who is supposed to want to assemble a team within their vision that ultimately wins some form of championship in that league. Snow operates under a different set of rules. To him, the Stanley Cup is completely off the radar. Snow’s championship involves finding ways to beat the NHL salary cap floor. And he’s the Wayne Gretzky of cap circumvention. Rookie bonuses, over 35 bonuses, inflated cap contracts, suspensions, and even trading for nonexistent players- if there is a way to short a dollar from the cap, Snow’s thought of it.
Back to shaping a team. The ways you can build an NHL roster are varied, but involve four parts- drafts trades, waiver wire, and free agency. For Snow, two of these are immediately ruled out as options- free agency, because no player is crazy enough to come here, and trades, because who would want losers from last place teams?
That leaves Snow the waiver wire and the draft. People rave about Snow’s waiver wire moves, but we’re not sure why. Yes, Matt Moulson was a great pick, hands down, but do you think that maybe John Tavares had any input into that? Because we do. And for Snow, MIihael Grabner’s first round pedigree made him an easy waiver pick. Just ask Rob Schremp, Jeff Finley and Thomas Hickey how the first round opens doors in Islander nation. Or Ty Wishart and Jeff Tambellini for that matter.
The other avenue for Snow to use to improve the team is the NHL entry draft. Snow has been drafting since 2007, and has done a fairly terrible job. The statistics are there- 7 first rounders, 7 second rounders, 8 third rounders producing 3 players, and only one a first liner despite five lottery picks. Not that they’re a good team, but Edmonton somehow turned 9 first round picks in that same span into a first line, a second line, and 2 defensemen.
What makes it even worse is that teams that are “lottery” teams, you know- bad- generally put players into their lineups basically within 15 months of drafting them, because they need help and draft specifically to meet those needs. Islander fans know the needs of this team are a second line center, a top pairing defenseman, and an elite wing for John Tavares to pass with. In the last three drafts, Snow has drafted an elite wing, a second line center, and a top pairing defenseman. NONE are on the team. And when the wing was put on the team, he suffered an injury and was subsequently buried on the fourth line. In fact, from the last three draft classes (2010-2012) NO ONE drafted by Snow is in the NHL. Not that every team has put players in the NHL from the draft classes listed above, but it’s a philosophy that was used by winning teams like Boston, Anaheim, Chicago, New Jersey, Philadelphia, New York, and Los Angeles. Snow, however, knows better.
Looking at Snow’s overall drafting, here are the types of players he has chosen and “developed” thusfar as GM: a 4th line center, a 4th line winger, two third line wingers, a second pairing defenseman, a defenseman for another team, and John Tavares. Those are the ONLY players with resumes worth considering.
The draft king produced nothing for the 2007 draft beyond 11 games of Mark Katic. His best of the 2008 draft are Travis Hamonic and Josh Bailey. Bailey’s a nice guy and all, but when you’re saying that this was a catch that’s played in his 300th NHL game recently- wow. You can argue that Matt Martin is a winner as well with his 13 career goals because he hits a lot of things, but I’m not sure who you’d argue that with, as any sane person would just feel bad for you fighting that fight. The same goes for the gifted goal scoring hands (6 career goals so far) of David Ullstrom. The 2009 draft? Tavares was a no brainer, so I’m shocked that Snow didn’t foul that up. Casey Cizikas also has looked good on the 4th line. We’ll give credit to Snow- he’s good at drafting for the 4th line. 2010 was Nino (see our piece: Ninogate) and nothing since.
46 draft picks and this is all that you have to show for it.
Snow is a fan of taking players in a draft that no one else would consider in that same position. For example, no one thought Josh Bailey would go 9th overall, Josh included. No one would have taken Calvin De haan 12th overall, Calvin included. Nino was a top ten pick, but top 5? Consider that Jeff Skinner, taken 2 picks later, has 118 more points in his NHL career thus far. But Snow also looks for “value” picks. No one wanted to waste a pick on Kiril Petrov because he had a long term contract signed in Russia. Snow took a chance. And when that KHL contract was done, Petrov looked at the Islanders…and promptly resigned a new contract in Russia. Cizikas was considered a first round talent who fell into Snow’s lap in the 4th round because he killed someone. Yes, actual manslaughter. Corey Trivino, the Boston University standout was hanging around in round two because of whispers of his partying were growing. They finally blew up into sexual assault charges recently. Aaron Ness was considered a first round talent but people feared he was too small, so Snow got him in the second round in 2008. We’re still awaiting his first round talent to take a regular shift. That Cody Rosen was drafted at all was a reach. Kirill Kabanov was another first round talent that fell due to whispers of his immaturity. That first round talent made his debut at 20 in the AHL, and aside from using his body to see how sharp skates really are, hasn’t done all that much. Snow used a 5th and a 7th round pick in 2012 on high school kids. When kids are good in high school, they tend to play for junior teams. When does Snow expect them to go pro? After prom?
Snow’s reaching (often in the first round) leads us to ask a question: does Snow screw up the draft on purpose?
We’ve already seen him use the waiver wire to pick up the castoffs of others, and have theorized that he does such to hide his drafting deficiencies. But maybe there’s more to it. Maybe he drafts badly on purpose. But why would he do that, you ask? Job security. Here’s how:
Snow walks into his unaccountable job, having gone through three head coaches, assorted front office staff including former Islander legends, and 46 draft picks and counting. He looks his boss in the eye and says “This years (pick any year, really) draft class didn’t work out. But I hear that next year’s class is pretty awesome! I already made a plan. We need a (fill in the blank) so that’s what we’ll do in round one. Round two and three will be guys who are people think should have been in round one but fell because they had some kind of issue. Rounds 4 and 5 are key- this is where I find the future 4th liners that may blossom into third liners. I’m not sure about drafting defensemen, since only one out of the 22 that I’ve drafted plays here, and then I’ll try to trade my rounds 6 and 7 picks for a future 3rd round pick. Whats that? Why aren’t I calling any of my past draft picks up to the team? Pfft- that’s easy. They need development time. Plus, these waiver guys? WAY less expensive than paying first round picks, with all of the bonuses, high base salary and whatnot. I’m saving you millions! Oh, that reminds me- I need to see what teams have suspended players so I can get their cap hits and not improve our product one iota. See ya around the office, boss!”
Islander fans regard the 1995-2006 run of Mike Milbury as some of the worst GM work in the history of sports. However, Milbury is about to become useful here. His reign as GM is roughly twice as long as Snow’s, so we should be able to draw comparisons as to how bad they are by using a “twice as many” multiplier. Milbury, having twice as many seasons to run this team, should have twice as many NHL players developed in his time. Let’s take a peek, shall we?
As we did with Snow, we’re not going to count guys with under 40 NHL games played. With that standard, lets start with Milbury’s first draft- 1996- and go forward. One guy from that draft is still in the NHL – Zdeno Chara- and another guy played almost 900 games- J.P. Dumont. 1997? Roberto Luongo and Eric Brewer still play. 1998? Mike Rupp. 1999? Tim Connolly, Taylor Pyatt, Radek Martinek still play. 3 other players had over 150 NHL games played from that draft. 2000? Rick DiPietro and Raffi Torres. 2001? Awful. 2002? Sean Bergenheim and Frans Neilsen. 2003? Bruno Gervais. 2004? Blake Comeau and Chris Campoli still “play,” and Petteri Nokelainen put up almost 250 games played in the NHL. 2005? Awful.
Snow: 6 drafts- 1 star, 2 3rd liners, 2 4th liners, and 2 defensemen. Ironically, no goalies.
Milbury: 10 drafts- 2 stars (Chara and Luongo), 2 second liners, 6 3rd liners, 4 defensemen, and DiPietro- so also, no goalies. We know that Luongo is a goalie, but we counted him as a star. So there.
And for an added slap of reality- Don Maloney: 3 drafts- 2 stars (Bryan McCabe and Todd Bertuzzi), 1 3rd liner, 2 4th liners, 4 defensemen, and 1 goalie- Tommy Salo. 3 guys w over 1,000 NHL games (2 more than Milbury, 3 more than Snow obviously)
You’d think guys who played a position would be good at drafting that position. Milbury was a defenseman that promoted Chris Campoli, Bruno Gervais, and Evgeny Korolev into the NHL. Snow was a goalie that promoted…no goalies, really, but traded for Al Montoya, signed Yann Danis, and drafted Cody Rosen. Is there a difference in production between these two guys? If fans chanted “Mike Must Go,” what’s the chant for Garth? Snow job? For all of his shortcomings, at least Milbury wasn’t afraid to make a trade! Milbury also put himself back behind the bench to deal with his own mess. Snow could actually earn respect by trying to right his own wrongfully directed ship by doing the same. Not saying he would do well, however he would be in close range of heckling.
Snow apologists will say “you can’t judge Snow because no one from the last 3 drafts are here yet.” Actually, that’s one way to judge Snow – specifically because no one he’s recently drafted is on a team needing immediate help at every and all positions. Not every bad team’s GM immediately puts first round picks on teams within 3 months of being drafted, but it has happened on teams like Columbus, Colorado, Edmonton, Florida (after a rare playoff run even!), Tampa Bay, Atlanta/Winnipeg, Carolina, Minnesota, Buffalo, and Montreal. And just as a reminder, the following teams have players drafted in the years 2010-2012 on their rosters right now: Boston, Anaheim, Chicago, New Jersey, Philadelphia, New York, and Los Angeles. Maybe we should call him Snowbury?
Here is another reason you can judge Snow- he drew up his rebuild like a Jackson Pollack painting. Instead of having a plan, you know, like drafting based on need and actually utilizing said draft picks, Master Mind Garth decided to give potential draft picks psychology tests. Maybe he’s trying to build a team based on Harvard’s model? Who knows. We do know this- how many Richie Cunningham’s play hockey? Here’s an idea- draft Fonzies. Draft hockey players, not nice guys with a good head on their shoulders like Josh Bailey. While good teams draft based on talent, Garth drafts based on….. actually, we don’t know what the hell he bases his drafts on. He literally throws, presumably his own, feces at the wall. What names it hits is who drafts. Most teams you know have a system, like drafting from the goal out, taking best player available, filling an organizational need. Nope, not Garth. Not when he can trade all of his draft picks for the assumed SECOND best player- not the first- THE SECOND best player in the draft. And when an even dumber GM said no? Snow drafts seven defenseman to equal that one player he couldn’t get. What is this – Voltron?
Of all of the former Islander players who are now GM’s in the NHL, did we get the worst? Maybe we should give Marty McInnis a shot at choosing the players in our next draft.
To sum it up, as long as Charles Wang runs this team on a sub cap floor budget and has a guy willing to be shady like that, Snow isn’t going anywhere. And as long as Snow has this job, based on his past practices and generally terrible record for drafting and developing, expect more of the same.
About the Author: We are two long time hockey fans who certainly have our own opinions and points of view. Feel free to share yours. Follow on twitter @joshbarely