[THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN BY OUR NEWEST CONTRIBUTOR, CHRIS TRIANTAFILIS.]
TAMPA, FL.–The New York Islanders have come a long way, folks. With three games remaining in the truncated 2013 season, the Isles have proven themselves to be worthy adversaries. Left for dead in January even before the lock officially ended by critics, analysts, and fans alike, Long Island’s hockey team is holding onto a definitive playoff spot. And despite early season demands for change—shouting about payroll and cursing the poor quality of play on the ice—the fans are [slowly] coming together, reminding those with vested interest that we are all, in fact, Islanders.
Returning to the origins of this truncated season, the Islanders were mostly written off because of their ‘lackluster’ and underwhelming opening-night roster. Remember, if you will, when Nino Niederreiter was overlooked by management, but Colin McDonald and Keith Aucoin made the team? How about when Matt Donovan was passed over for shiny new waiver-wire parts in Thomas Hickey and Brian Strait?
Now, I had the team finishing 7th before the year started (Cookie, you say? I wouldn’t mind one), but most of us Isles fans? We roasted Garth Snow for it.It’s pretty quiet now, though. He may not be receiving praise, but his Internet critics have silently crept back from where ever it is they reside.I guess the one thing that bothers me is the following: Why isn’t Garth Snow receiving praise? I still hear the jabs, albeit not nearly as loud: “Why didn’t Garth make a trade,” or “Garth keeps the team’s payroll at the cap-floor” still come across my Twitter-feed from time-to-time.But again: my question is, why? What’s wrong with how he’s been operating this hockey team? Those who follow me over at Islanders Op-Timism know where I’m headed. But for those who don’t, I’m going to tell you something that may startle you: Garth Snow should be considered for General Manager of the year.
<Hides under desk to prevent Internet stoning>
Are we cool? Are we calm? Are you ready to hear why?
Let me start with the basics: the General Manager of the Year Award is awarded annually to the top National Hockey League general manager as voted by a 40-member panel that includes all 30 general managers, 5 NHL executives, and 5 media members. Since the award’s inception during the 2009-2010 hockey season, Don Maloney (PHX), Mike Gillis (VAN), and Doug Armstrong (STL) have each earned the accolade.
Many of you reading over the aforementioned names are thinking: “Wish we had one of those guys.” Well, I don’t. Believe it or not, the team you’ve been cheering on these past 45 games is most definitely Garth Snow’s experiment. Assembled by Garth, tinkered by Garth, and rolled out by Garth.
Let me start with the [real] off-season. We demanded a top-four defenseman? Garth Snow went out on Draft Day and got him in one, Lubomir Visnovsky, from the Anaheim Ducks for a 2nd-round draft choice. Sure, there were plenty of issues with getting him to actually play here in the first place, but he’s here and has been a huge reason why the Islanders are in their current position. Okay, so he only has fourteen points (3-11-14) through 33 games this season. His production is still second on the team for Islanders’ defensemen, which has helped boost productivity from 19 goals through 82 games in 2011-12 to 19 goals through 44 games in 2013. Oh, and did I mention he signed the “disgruntled” Visnovsky to a two-year extension?
During the off-season, Garth also lost his third-leading scorer in PA Parenteau. What did he do? He took another shot, this time signing Brad Boyes to a one-year contract for only $1M. Admittedly, Parenteau has proved to be the better of the two, but it’s not like we’re missing PA for his production. Through 45 games, Boyes has 34 points (9-25-34). He gets a lot of flak for not being PA Parenteau, but his production is basically on par. As the Islanders move forward with Boyes, they boast the 7th most efficient offense in the NHL.
His other free agent signings (Jesse Joensuu, Matt Carkner and Eric Boulton) have provided the depth the Islanders need, but the jewel in Garth’s crown undoubtedly points to Colin McDonald—one of the Islanders’ most consistent players through the entire season.
I’m going to be honest. I never heard of him before the season, and was shocked when he made the line-up instead of Nino Niederreiter. I shut up a few games into the season when I watched Colin throw his body around the ice and contribute on the score-sheet. Although Colin’s moved up to the third line in recent weeks, Colin was one-third of a 4th-line’s huge success that has been just as important to them team’s playoff push as John Tavares has been.
During the 2011-12 season, the Islanders received 3 goals from their 4th-line of Niederreiter, Pandolfo, and Reasoner. This season, Colin McDonald, Casey Cizikas, and Matt Martin have combined for 17 goals, over 500% better through just over half the amount of time. While everybody has carried on about the Islanders’s need for a second-line centre and a winger to play with Tavares, Garth fixed the 4th-line, which has scored 13 extra goals in comparison to last season. If you subtracted that number from the Islanders’ total goals for one year, the Islanders offense would drop from 7th to 14th in the NHL.
We ridiculed Garth for being a waiver-wire “dumpster-diver,” for picking up the likes of Thomas Hickey, Brian Strait, Joe Finley, and Keith Aucoin before the season started. Not every one of them has worked out, but come on: why wouldn’t you claim a former 1st-round pick that stands at 6’7?
While Brian Strait played well before he missed more than half of the season with a fractured ankle (he returned yesterday), and Keith Aucoin has contributed 5 goals (including a game-winner), Thomas Hickey has been another real gem of Garth’s 2013 waiver-wire class. Thomas Hickey, a former 4th-overall draft pick, has played in 37 games for the Islanders this season. After beginning his career as a -5 in his first 8 career games, Hickey is currently a +10. It’s not a tell-all statistic, but here’s what you should know.
Thomas Hickey went on an 18-game streak without finding himself as a “minus” player, and to prove it wasn’t a fluke, Hickey has been on the ice for 27 fewer goals than the next Islanders’ defenseman (Mark Streit has been on the ice for 50 goals this season).
Lastly, what about the trade deadline? “What about the trade deadline? Nothing happened.” Precisely. Garth Snow did nothing. OK, so he made happen the Tim Thomas deal in February, but you know what? That was also a great deal. Already at the cap floor, he made a deal to acquire cap space that would cost him nothing, and if the Isles needed to trade someone for draft choices, they could do so without slipping under the floor.
However, he made no moves on the April 3rd deadline. Sometimes, the best move is the one you don’t make. The Islanders have several upcoming free agents on their roster, but Garth Snow held tight. Why? Because the players on his team gave the Islanders their best chance to reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2006-07 season.
I heard many things from many sources: some of us wanted Boyes to be traded, others Mark Streit (admittedly, I was one of them). Some of us wanted to see Nino Niederreiter and Brock Nelson and Matt Donovan with the Islanders. Fact is this isn’t the time for experimentation.If the Isles were ready to experiment, they would have done it in January, not while in the midst of a playoff race in April.
Since the deadline, Streit has played some very good hockey. Boyes has been a contributor, partly leading the Islanders to victory with a three-point game on Thursday night. Snow stayed put, and the Islanders have gone 6-0-2 since the deadline came and went.
Look. The Islanders have had a plan since the beginning: they were going to build through the draft, evaluate what works and what hasn’t , pay the people who have panned out, and build around that. Garth and the Islanders are at the stage of paying those who have panned out. Sure, the Isles have been hovering around the cap floor, but that won’t be the case once Hamonic , Nelson, and Donovan get their money. The Islanders have players they plan on paying, but they’re still on their entry-level deals. Cap space does not equal talent, which is why Andrew MacDonald ($550K) and Travis ($850K) are the Islanders’ top defensive pairing.
Despite the salary restraints, despite a “minor-league roster on paper,” and despite trading for Tim Thomas instead of Jarome Iginla, Garth Snow’s Islanders are in reach of their first playoff-berth after a five-year absence. Garth used creative ways to fill less obvious holes on this team (4th-line, depth) to turn this team from a basement-dweller to a playoff-contender. Garth Snow deserves to be the National Hockey League’s General Manager of the Year.
How’s that for my Eyes on Isles debut? Talk to me, chirp me, I’m all ears. Let me know what you think! I would also like to thank Rich Diaz, Andy Graziano, Michael Willhoft and Scotty Bonner for their introductions. If you know my writing, you’re probably most familiar with my work at Islanders Op-Timism. Well, don’t think for one second that the optimism is gone just because I’m elsewhere!
I’ve got my eyes on the Isles and there’s a whole lot to be optimistic about.
Follow me @christriants