Party on, Garth Snow

"Party on, Wang"

“Party on, Wang”

Garth Snow was named the Executive of the Year by Sports Illustrated in 2007, likely because he made three moves for big name players that eventually resulted in a New York Islanders playoff appearance in his first season.

However neither Ryan Smyth nor Richard Zednik, two of Snow’s acquisitions midseason, played another game for the Islanders. Marc-Andre Bergeron played 46 games in 2007-2008 before he was traded to Anaheim and the Islanders quickly sunk into 5th place in the Atlantic Division and stayed there for five consecutive seasons.

It was during those five seasons that the Islanders were a bit of a joke, and a lot of focus was placed on Snow and the 15-year contract that Rick DiPietro signed in the fall of 2006. Like in the case of Ilya Bryzgalov and Roberto Luongo, if that long term deal for a goaltender that was a massive failure in retrospect was the idea of the general manager, he’d be fired by now. I think during those years at the bottom of the Atlantic Division as Snow rebuilt the prospect system of the Islanders and tried to find players that would help him compete in 2012-onward, the futility of the team was symbolized by that DiPietro contract.

But after all that… check out the praise the Islanders got coming out of free agency:

Jesse Spector via the Sporting News:

The strategy employed by Garth Snow is a fascinating one, as the Islanders’ general manager gave out the richest one-year contract of the day (until Jarome Iginla’s), a $2 million pact to add Pierre-Marc Bouchard from the Minnesota Wild, whom he scored 20 goals in 2006-07 and had only 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists this season).

If that sounds familiar, that’s because last year, Snow signed Brad Boyes to a one-year, $1 million contract, hoping that the former 43-goal scorer would rediscover some of his offensive touch on a line with Matt Moulson and John Tavares. Boyes had 35 points in 48 games, his best showing on a points-per-game basis since 2008-09 with St. Louis.

Nick Cotsonika via Yahoo:

The Islanders re-signed goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. They also made the kind of move that draws no attention on a day like this but the kind of move that pays off in the long run. They signed Travis Hamonic to a seven-year deal at a cap hit of $3.8 million. Hamonic who? Yeah, he flies under the radar with the Isles, but Hamonic is a solid defensive defenseman who is only 22 years old. He traded some future earnings for security. By giving him seven years, the Islanders lowered the cap hit almost as much as possible and locked him up. The Isles also added nifty playmaker Pierre-Marc Bouchard up front.

I’m not wild on the Evgeni Nabokov move, but you could probably argue that Snow saved a few bucks by allowing Nabokov to test the free agency waters and determining that “overaged, under-performing starter” wasn’t exactly a hot commodity on the free agency wire.

One of the things that Garth Snow has done so well is that his long-term contracts have been given out exclusively to young players. The oldest player Snow has locked up in a contract that runs past the end of next season is Frans Nielsen, who turned 29 in April. [Capgeek page]

Travis Hamonic is only locked up through his age 29 season, and John Tavares through his age 27 season. At that point, the Islanders are probably going to have to cut bigger cheques, but they have about five years of having a No. 2 defenceman and a perennial MVP candidate under contract for less than $9.5-million in salary cap space. Not many teams that are building with the UFA market have managed that.

Snow did not fall in love with Brad Boyes’ redemption year in New York, and while he had 10 goals and 35 points (17 goals and 60 points over an 82-game season) Boyes is still on the market, and Snow brought on a player with just as much upside in Pierre-Marc Bouchard on a one-year deal. Since years, not dollars, are the new currency to free agents, the most impressive part about Snow’s Monday is that every unrestricted free agent he signed came on just a one-year deal. There’s the exception of Lubomir Visnovsky, who is signed to a 35+ two-year deal worth slightly under $5-million, but the Islanders should get value on that contract if he plays as well during those two years as he did this past season.

It’s good that there’s at least one general manager who is handcuffed enough by dollars to have to think about the best places to spend the money. There were indubitably some teams that let themselves be talked into requiring a certain free agent—Philly with Bryzgalov, Toronto with David Clarkson, Phoenix with Mike Smith—and it defined the way that the teams were operating.

When the Islanders rebuilt, they actually rebuilt, and locked down good players long-term on cheap contracts. Their needs in free agency were guys that would come aboard for cheap and fill up roster spots. Peter Regin and Pierre-Marc Bouchard can both be useful players, but if they aren’t, the Islanders can go out next year and find somebody else to play alongside Tavares, which probably isn’t the hardest job in hockey. The important thing is that the team isn’t hamstrung with long-term deals, and instead have low-risk bets up and down the lineup.

The kicker for me is the drafting of the 17-year-old USHL scoring champion at 76th overall. “If Taylor Cammarata were 5’10″ and not 5’7″, where would we be ranking him?” I assume is a question that was asked in Islanders’ pre-draft meetings. “We’re not selling big and tall jeans here.”