By Jeff Capellini
Garth Snow is angry, and understandably so.
But the words that came out of his mouth on Thursday regarding the shocking injury that ended John Tavares’ Olympics and, more importantly, his season with the Islanders, were misguided. They may have come from a place of raw emotion, but Snow, for reasons that should seem obvious, is just not the appropriate messenger boy.
Because considering the extremely mediocre on-ice product that has been representative of his seven-plus years as Islanders general manager, Snow is probably the last guy who should be championing the causes of anyone who pays money to see this team.
I’ll get to what he said in a moment.
No one is denying that there’s an inherent risk whenever NHL players are permitted to go to the Olympics. This tournament, while incredibly exciting, has played to the fears of many executives and fans around the league due to troubling injuries that could very well alter the fates of some teams’ seasons.
The Detroit Red Wings, who have struggled with consistency and were already going to have to fight tooth and nail just to get into playoffs, cannot be pleased that veteran forward Henrik Zetterberg is likely done for at least the regular season due to a herniated disc. The Rangers have to be wondering where a good percentage of their offense will come from while Mats Zuccarello’s broken left hand heals. The Blueshirts’ leading scorer will miss two weeks’ worth of games.
Then there are the Islanders, who are no strangers to the roof caving in. While it’s true this team’s playoff chances took a massive hit during its annual November swoon and were likely finished off by a disastrous stretch heading into the Olympic break, losing franchise player Tavares, the heart, soul and meal ticket of the entire fan base, was just devastating.
With all due respect to Kyle Okposo, who is having a wonderful season, the Islanders are Tavares. The chance to see one of the top five players in the NHL takes some of the sting out of going to Nassau Coliseum every other night with preconceived and often justified notions that the home team is going to lose.
And the latter half of that last sentence is the reason why Snow shouldn’t be leading a mob armed with pitchforks against the International Ice Hockey Federation and the International Olympic Committee in an attempt to avenge Tavares.
“Are the IIHF or IOC going to reimburse our season-ticket holders now? It’s a joke,” Snow said, according to Newsday. “They want all the benefits from NHL players playing in the Olympics and don’t want to pay when our best player gets hurt.
“This is probably the biggest reason why NHL players shouldn’t be in the Olympics, it should just be amateurs,” Snow continued. “And it could have happened to anyone; it just happened to be us that lost our best player. A lot of people pay to see John play. It wouldn’t matter if we were 10 points clear of a playoff spot or 10 points out. We lost our best player and he wasn’t even (injured while) playing for us.”
Now, to many fans the crux of Snow’s gripe is sound. According to various polls I read prior to the Sochi Games there were generally more people in favor of NHL player participation, with those against it more concerned about injuries than they were the old school belief that Olympic competition should be about amateurs. But, like I said, those polls were taken before Zetterberg, Zuccarello and Tavares went down. By contrast, a poll taken Thursday on CBSNewYork.com revealed that 59 percent of fans are done with the NHL participation idea.
Does that speak for the country? I can’t say. But I can say there’s more fear now than there was before.
So on the surface Snow was not wrong to be annoyed, but it might have served him better to vent about the issue publicly prior to the Olympics, not after his star player went down. At least then he could have said “I tried to warn you” and there might be more sympathy for both him and the Islanders.
But under the surface, where true Islanders fans live, Snow effectively screaming about money and what his season-ticket holders deserve rings very hollow. I’ve spoken to many season-ticket holders and they in essence told me they were more mad at Snow after his Tavares comments than they were after he put together what has amounted to a far worse team than the one that made the playoffs last season.
Where was Snow when the Islanders went in the tank in November, like they have done several times under his watch? Where was the shake-up? Where was the missive issued from up high?
Where was Snow when the Islanders were blowing two-goal lead after two-goal lead in the third period, at home no less, on a weekly basis? Where was the anger then?
Where was Snow when he basically created a team of one? That’s right, there’s Tavares and who exactly? Okposo? All right, but let’s see where his production goes without his center. Thomas Vanek? Really? Do we need to go there again? Josh Bailey getting paid like a productive NHLer? Evgeni Nabokov off a horrible playoff series suddenly finding the Fountain of Youth? The list goes on and on.
During those times of despair Snow had no one to blame but himself, but never once did I hear him say anything or behave in a manner that would suggest that the Islanders operate under an umbrella of accountability.
But now, because there is an outside entity to blame, we hear from him?
That’s pretty weak.
Take a poll of season-ticket holders and ask them what they think of Snow’s job performance. Him coming out and defending their wallets is not going to change his popularity or the reality of what the Islanders are. He just came off out of touch with the team’s fan base.
I understand that Snow in many respects has been a victim of circumstance, forced to maybe not run the team the way he would like due to the franchise’s financial issues and owner Charles Wang’s desire not to lose any more money than he already has. I’ve heard all about how free agents apparently don’t like Long Island, but how much of that is actually true? Do we need to bust out more polls?
The bottom line is Snow sits in the big chair and will be judged regardless if he has a spending mandate or free reign to do whatever is necessary. He can’t lay blame at anyone’s feet when his house is in such disorder. And, trust me, his house was a mess long before Tavares got injured.
I liked it better when Snow professed an open-ended rebuild and then hid away in his office. At least you knew where he stood. Him suddenly emerging from the shadows to defend the honor and economics of Long Island is a day late and millions of dollars short.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet
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