In watching yet another Islander season going to waste, there is plenty of finger pointing to do. Injuries are not going to be on that finger wagging list however. They’re part of every season, and frankly, the goaltending got BETTER after the injury to Evgeny Nabokov. No, the first person to get our “J’Accuse!” (Nous accusons?) is Jack Capuano. If you’ve read our most recent articles, you’ll see the laundry list as to why this would be a good idea. Granted, it’s not just Capuano that’s terrible. Sure, he refuses to make any substitutions that are substantive to the lineup- like demanding that any high scoring players from the AHL roster help our on lines 2 or 3– or even to his own philosophy. In the man’s own words after a practice on 11/26/13:
Jack Capuano from yesterday’s skate: “You can’t get beat off the wall. That’s something our guys see, and they have to understand that. They have to believe in one another and trust one another, but at the end of the day you have to win your battles. I’ve been saying that since day one. Nothing changes. (Italics ours)”
Nothing changes? When you lose the month of November, here’s an idea- make changes. After all, a season is only so long. Which brings us to the next point.
In August 2011, residents of Nassau County resoundingly voted no on plans to have the county finance a new Nassau Coliseum. As longtime Islander fans, we blamed this failing on Charles Wang. Think back to the electricity Wang brought to this team back in 2001. Back then, general manager Mike Milbury was heard asking “What’s wrong with the core we got? It plays pretty good. We got Kenny Jonnson and who else?” to which head coach Butch Goring replied “Jason Blake, Eric Cairns, Mariuz Czerkawski.”
Wang realized that this was awful. He opened his wallet, and brought in talent like Roman Hamirlik, Michael Peca, Adrian Aucoin, Chris Osgood, and Alexei Yashin to join the viable “core” players that included such stellar talents like Brad Isbister and Oleg Kvasha. He even brought in an untried coach, which in retrospect was a bad idea considering that it became a trend, but at the moment seemed plausible. The results were winning hockey, electricity around the team that hadn’t been seen in years, and satisfied fans. If that referendum vote was held in August 2002, it likely would have passed.
But it wasn’t. Wang kept fielding less and less successful teams as he tried to get his Lighthouse project passed. He bellyached publicly that he was losing money on his hockey operations. We’re sure that if someone was trying to convince us that he could afford a multibillion dollar project but was publicly complaining about losing $20 million annually so loudly, we’d be skeptical about his ability to finance such a project- especially in the very recent wake of the John Spano fiasco.
What made things worse was the decision to hire his former backup goalie as general manager. Not only does that show a lack of management acumen- especially considering who Garth Snow replaced- but was likely the death knell to his lighthouse project AND the referendum for other reasons.
What Wang could have done with Snow- who inherited a playoff team – could have been simple. “Hey Garth, go out and get me elite players. Pay them more than other teams offer, and offer to pay up front.” Or he could have said “Garth, make some trades just like the Ryan Smyth one. That brought buzz!” Instead, since Snow says it was never about spending restrictions, we have to take him on his word. The directions from Wang must have been “Garth, create a team in your own image.”
What was that image? A goalie who lost a Stanley Cup playing behind the “Next One” and the Legion of Doom? Snow’s entire goal career was unspectacular, statistically and achievement wise. Snow was a #1 goalie in his career once, arguable twice in over a decade in the game. In his prime, at his best, he was a back up goalie, often for losing teams. And what moves did Snow make as GM?
Snow’s early moves were aggressive and relatively successful. After adding Captain Canada Ryan Smyth to pair up with Alexei Yashin for a few weeks and a playoff series loss, Snow gave Smyth a financially fair offer. But Smyth chose to go back out west for his own reasons. We speculate that in those negotiations, Smyth asked what the team’s direction was, and the answer from Snow was “I don’t know.” Thus, by default, the rebuild began. And so did the irrelevance of this team.
Folks, this is where the Lighthouse dreams and referendum attempt totally went up in smoke, and why your favorite team will be in Brooklyn in a year and a half. By turning the Islander brand into a punchline in every sports outlet nationally, Garth Snow marginalized the value of the team, maximized the stupidity of naming a wholly inexperienced general manager to run a professional organization, and quickly set out to prove how incompetent he was. We’re not going to rehash all of that, however. We’re going to look at why it’s time to do what’s right- it’s time to fire Garth Snow.
To start, Snow insisted that the Islanders were not in rebuild mode. Then he insisted that the team’s goal was still to win. Then he insisted that they were in a rebuild the season before. We already posted these quotes here To have no idea what you’re doing in your job from the get go generally is bad. To stay bad is the call of the GM.
In this rebuild, the Islanders have employed two coaches. Since it’s a rebuild, they’re going to have bad records- both were sub .500. One was fired after a bungled November. One has bungled every November since and keeps his job. That is the GM’s call.
In this rebuild- done primarily through the draft because even though the Barclays is a season away, it’s still the arena’s fault that the team cannot attract top flight free agents- there has not been a draft pick promoted from any draft after 2010. It’s nearly 2014. That’s the GM’s call.
In this rebuild there have been 8 first round picks- including 5 exclusive “lottery” picks. Of those 8, 5 have made the NHL. One lottery pick plays in Minnesota, where he’s outscoring most of our second and third line players. Luckily, he was traded for…a 4th line hitter. Of the three non lottery picks, one has a career spanning one whole game that just got promoted to help out a power play even though he has 3 points in the AHL this year. Another made his NHL debut at 22 years old. That’s the GM’s call.
In this rebuild, which has seen 48 players drafted, only one made an all star team. While the GM doesn’t pick the all star team, good players make the team. When you are holding top 5 picks for 5 straight years and only have one all star- a first overall- you aren’t doing the job. Not drafting well is the GM’s call.
In this rebuild, which has seen 21 defensemen drafted, only one has made an impact on the roster, where he’s in over his head and often being outplayed by other team’s top lines. Way to support your players by pairing them with inadequate partners. That’s the GM’s call.
Of the 6 goalies drafted, none have made any significant impact in the NHL. They were drafted by a former NHL goalie. This goes to show how awful Snow’s ability is to assess even his own position. What about the ones he didn’t play? How can you trust that poor judgment with anything beyond lunch? Again, that’s the GM’s call.
Of players that have played wing in the Garth Snow era, only one was drafted by Garth Snow, who isn’t even playing the position in which he was drafted. Then Snow watches as no production happen for games at a time and deems that he’s worth a 300% raise. That’s the GM’s call.
Despite a glaring need for help on the Islander defense for the current season- a season that was supposed to be the beginning of something new for the Islanders, like winning- Snow spent an offseason doing nothing to improve his defense. When that defense suffered injuries this season, Snow continued to not only do nothing, but continued trading useful bargaining chips for forwards. He even overpaid in future draft picks just to have another team help pick up salary. That’s the GM’s call.
Despite having the fifth best prospect pool in the NHL – somehow dropping from third best last year while adding a value first rounder- Snow not only does not promote prospects, but he does not use prospects to make an impact trade for the team. For those thinking that’s an impossible task, you may want to look at a few trades that happened in recent years like the Rangers and Rick Nash, Minnesota and Jason Pominville, St Louis and Jordon Leopold, Pittsburgh and Brendan Morrow, Pittsburgh and Jerome Iginla, or the New York Islanders and Cal Clutterbuck. That’s the GM’s call.
Despite an organizational need for goaltenders for his entire management career, Snow’s most significant move to address the situation came by making a waiver claim on a retired goalie, then resigning him after he showed in a playoff series that there was nothing left in the tank. Not only that, he gave him a raise. That’s the GM’s call.
Despite the nearly 50 draft picks chosen by Snow, hockeysfuture.com points out that the Islanders only have ONE offensive forward in the entire organization. ONE. That’s the GM’s call.
Despite evidence time and time again that his starting goalie was inadequate and often in rehab, Snow gave Rick DiPietro NHL level reps –not ECHL or AHL reps, but reps that affect a win loss record for a professional team- to help him find his game again. That’s the GM’s call.
He continues to employ a coach whose system is simple, predictable, and very beatable, as the coach’s career record shows. He chooses not to fire a staff that all broke in as rookie coaches in the NHL with no prior major league coaching experience and has shown a regression in their time at work. That’s the GM’s call.
His career winning percentage is actually worse then his current head coach, at .472. For those who aren’t mathematicians, it’s this- if you watch two Islanders games a year in the Garth Snow era, you’re odds of seeing two wins are not nearly as good as the odds of seeing two losses are. And you’re statistically guaranteed to see a loss in a two game sample. This may not be the best way to put fans in the seats in a gate driven sport like hockey. That’s the GM’s call.
For a team claiming to be in a rebuild, what actions are they taking that are any different than any other NHL team? They draft players like any team does. They occasionally make a trade like any team does. They sign free agents, just a little worse than most teams do. Where is the philosophy that makes the Islander rebuild any different than the Bruins or Rangers or Capitals or Canucks do in their day to day operations, except win? If that’s the case, then it’s official- the rebuild is a failure. That lack of vision is the GM’s call.
And do you think Snow has the clearance to sign a guy presently making $7 million a year to a bigger contract? Especially since you had to throw in draft picks in order for someone to pay Vanek’s present salary? Does anyone think that Thomas Vanek is going to look around at this and say “I’m in. And at a discount!” Trading for a player that you know you can’t sign? That level of stupidity is the GM’s call.
A winning mentality has to stem from ownership. It’s why Detroit consistently hires quality management and coaching. The same holds true for San Jose and Anaheim. Los Angeles recently figured it out as well, as did Chicago and Boston. Folks who say that Charles Wang wants to win are overlooking two important facts. If Wang wanted to win, he would have paid for a winning team, losses be damned. This isn’t his only source of revenue, and he would be fine with alleged losses if he could get his arena and all of the money Islanders Entertainment funnels towards him. Also, folks that say Wang wants to win overlook who he hires as management, and how bare bones his front office is. Many Islander fans want Wang to sell the team. Think there are any Red Wings fans who want the Ilitch’s to sell? Think Buffalo’s adding of extra front office help won’t make it a better organization?
Islander fans, Charles Wang has no interest in winning. If he did, on Black Friday he would make a series of phone calls. The first would be to Garth Snow informing him that he’s relieved of his duties. The next would be to the coaching staff with the same message. The next would be a job offer to Peter Laviolette, followed by a call to Brian Burke, and the establishment of a President of Hockey Operations position – maybe Brett Yormark is available for that advisory role.
Rebuilds in recent hockey memory have two things in common- the coaches that started the rebuild didn’t finish it, and the general managers that started the rebuild didn’t finish it. Folks, it’s time for Jack Capuano to be finished. More importantly, it’s time for Garth Snow to be fired. Until that day comes, all you can expect is 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