If Free Agents Say No, Embattled Exec Must Trade Prospects To Improve Team Now

By Daniel Friedman
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New York Islanders general manager Garth Snow knew exactly what he was getting himself into Friday night when he traded back into the first round and selected “overconfident” prospect Josh Ho-Sang.

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When asked by TSN’s James Duthie about why he wasn’t concerned about Ho-Sang’s perception, Snow delivered an uppercut, saying that “he’ll fit right in; they (the Canadian media) s*** on me, too.”

He was heavily criticized after the trade deadline and probably relished the opportunity to push back on Friday night.

Truthfully, Snow deserved to be criticized at that time, because he’d completely botched the Thomas Vanek situation as well as the entire season. However, both he and the team that employs him have been a laughingstock in the NHL for the last several years, and he’d obviously had enough.

The interesting thing about Snow is that he rarely speaks out, yet is still outspoken. When he wants you to know something, you’ll hear about it in a brash and candid tone, but when he doesn’t want you to know something, you will never find out what it is he’s keeping hidden away.

Over the past year, Snow has expressed that he will not have any patience for losing. He has promised to do anything that will improve his hockey team.

He expressed his anger towards the IIHF when John Tavares was lost for the rest of the season — due to an injury he sustained during the Sochi Olympics — and demanded to know whether the Isles’ season ticket holders would be reimbursed for supposedly being robbed of a shot at the playoffs, even though the team was essentially out of contention months beforehand.

Snow has conveyed a sense of passion and a willingness to be proactive. Unfortunately, his actual performance to date hasn’t quite lived up to that hype.

To his credit, he’s gotten off to a very good start this summer; first by trading for Jaroslav Halak’s right and then signing the No. 1 goaltender the Isles desperately needed, and then by hitting a grand slam at the draft. I thought the Isles did a tremendous job in the first round by taking Michael Dal Colle and Ho-Sang. Russian goalie Ilya Sorokin (third round) looks like he could be a hidden gem as well.

It’s a nice start, but there’s still more work to be done. If Snow expects to compete for a playoff spot this season, he must acquire a winger for Tavares and an established first- or second-pairing defenseman to compliment the young core.

Free agency opens up on Tuesday and, with it, Snow’s window to piece together a competitive roster. This is easily the most important summer of his tenure and, arguably, the most important one in the history of the franchise.

Are the Islanders doomed to continue living a mediocre existence or will they finally morph into the competitive team that ownership and management have promised is on its way for years and years? Can they finally take that next step and shake their losing perception?

The time to be patient and fix this team through the draft is over. The young core, including those not on the roster yet, is what it is now, and it’s either going to work or it’s not.

The time for refusing to part with any young talent has run out, because by now the Islanders should be able to identify most of their expendable pieces. If they still can’t, that’s another issue altogether.

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The time for making excuses has passed. How often has the rationale for failing to make trades to bolster the team been that the right deal just wasn’t out there? At a certain point, you just have to ask: why is the right deal never out there for Snow?

Put simply, the answer is that it’s because he’s a stubborn GM, which is part blessing and part curse.

It’s a blessing because he’ll never go Mike Milbury on you, but it’s a curse because he’ll never relent on his price when it comes to trades. With a few exceptions, just about every swap he’s made has been a bargain, because he’s stubbornly refused to settle for anything that wouldn’t be.

Until that changes — until Snow accepts the fact that he either learns to be a bit more flexible than he’d like to be or he risks not making his team better — it’ll be more of the same for both him and the Islanders. There’s no obligation to give away the kitchen sink, but it wouldn’t kill him to sweeten the pot a little more than he’s previously been willing to.

Snow left a heck of an impression on draft night, and good for him. If he wants to shoot his mouth off, that’s fine — but he needs to back it up with results. Eventually, people see through your act if you can’t really perform.

You don’t want the Canadian media to “s*** on” you? Good. Go out and acquire Josh Gorges, sign Radim Vrbata, Jussi Jokinen or, dare I say it, Vanek. Put together a competitive hockey team; you’ll shut them up real quick.

You don’t have any more patience for losing? Prove it. Don’t just trade for someone like Vanek and then call it a day. Do whatever it takes to make the playoffs, even if that involves firing your head coach during a horrendous November swoon.

If you can’t do those things, then all of the sound bites you’ve thrown out there are just empty rhetoric. No one wants to hear it anymore and no one wants your excuses. At the end of the day, you can either get the job done or you can’t.

July 18 will mark the eighth year of Snow’s reign, and that’s quite a long run for any general manger. He’s rebuilt the club, but now he must put the finishing touches on his roster.

The Islanders have an opportunity here. They have the opportunity to become a respectable organization that prioritizes winning and demonstrates that on the ice. They’re a year away from moving into a state-of-the-art arena and perhaps even closer to being under new ownership.

What the Isles have here is a chance to turn the page, and Snow will be a major reason why they do or don’t. If he wants respect, he can earn it. The choice is his.

Rightly or wrongly, TSN doesn’t make fun of teams that win and the media doesn’t “s*** on” GMs who take care of business.

Follow Daniel Friedman on Twitter at @DFriedmanOnNYI

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