It has officially been two weeks on the job for Lou Lamoriello as the New York Islanders’ president of hockey operations, but the longtime executive has already done all the evaluation he believes necessary to make two major changes to the organization, announcing Tuesday that GM Garth Snow and coach Doug Weight have been relieved of their positions.
With Snow out of his post, Lamoriello also announced that he will be taking over as Islanders GM. He steps into the gig fresh off of his tenure with the Toronto Maple Leafs, whom he served as GM from July 2015 until this past April. During his time in Toronto, the Maple Leafs made the post-season twice. As for the now-vacant coaching job, Lamoriello announced the search has already begun. It should be noted that both Snow and Weight will remain with the organization, however, per the team's release.
The timing of Lamoriello’s decisions can’t be overstated. As it stands, the Islanders have less than one month to make what is inarguably the most important free-agent pitch in franchise history and attempt to re-sign captain John Tavares, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. So removing Snow, who drafted Tavares and has been a fixture as the organization’s GM for the Islanders superstar’s entire career, means a major part of New York’s front-office landscape has changed. We can’t know exactly how that will influence Tavares’ free-agent decision, but we do know that it will come into his consideration given he said anything that “affects (his) daily life will go into his decision,” in THN’s Free Agency Preview. Tavares added that he wants to play for a team that’s doing everything it can to win.
Thus, given the importance of keeping Tavares, it would seem Lamoriello and Co. believe the best way to persuade their franchise player to stay – beyond handing him a blank cheque and whatever term he’s after – was to make some changes. And true as it may be that it’s somewhat surprising the announcement came Tuesday, especially as there were no recent indications or reports circulating that either Snow or Weight were in imminent danger, that both have been relieved of their duties isn’t altogether shocking.
That’s particularly the case for Snow, who was the fourth-longest tenured GM in the NHL and the target of the fan-driven ‘Snow Must Go’ billboard campaign as New York’s season slipped away. This past season marked the eighth time in 12 campaigns with Snow at the helm that the Islanders missed the playoffs. It was also the second consecutive season New York fell short of a post-season berth after achieving back-to-back appearances in 2014-15 and 2015-16. Even beyond the playoff misses, though, Snow had become a much-maligned figure among Islanders faithful.
Much of Snow’s lack of faith from the Islanders fanbase can be traced back to his early days on the job. One of his earliest moves as New York’s GM is considered among the worst of the salary-cap era, as Snow inked goaltender Rick DiPietro, the Islanders’ 2000 first-overall selection, to a 15-year, $67.5-million contract. At the time of the signing, DiPietro had appeared in only 143 games for New York, managing a 58-62-13 record, .900 save percentage and 2.85 goals-against average. An injury-hindered career would see DiPietro play only another 175 games for the Islanders, over which he posted a 72-74-23 record, .904 SP and 2.89 GAA, before New York used a compliance buyout on the netminder. He remains on the Islanders’ books for $1.5 million through the 2028-29 season, though the buyout does not count against the cap.
However, while that may be the most memorable miss for Snow, it’s in no way the only gaffe that soured Islanders fans on the GM. He has had his misfires on the trade market, including the failed acquisition of Thomas Vanek that cost the Islanders Matt Moulson and a first- and a second-round pick, and a few notable free agents have walked during Snow’s time in the Islanders' front office. Most recently, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo were allowed to get away.
It should be said that Snow did author some savvy moves during his time in New York that have impacted the positive aspects of today’s team. Landing Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk from the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins, respectively, days ahead of the 2014-15 campaign instantly rejuvenated and improved the blueline. Swapping Ryan Strome for Jordan Eberle in a one-for-one deal was a stroke of genius. And the Travis Hamonic trade that sent the blueliner to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a 2018 first-round pick and 2018 and 2019 second-round picks could pay dividends in short order. It’s also worth recognizing Snow had a hand in the draft selections of John Tavares, Mathew Barzal, Josh Bailey, Anders Lee, Anthony Beauvillier, Ryan Pulock, Brock Nelson, Calvin de Haan and Casey Cizikas. That’s not to mention the six other Snow-era draftees with 400-plus game careers who are no longer with the Islanders due to free agency or trades.
As for Weight, there was little doubt he was on a short leash at best given the Islanders' unbelievable collapse this past season. Across their first 41 games this past season, New York posted a 20-17-4 record but fell apart and ended the campaign two games below .500 and 17 points out of a post-season position by season’s end. He ends his tenure behind the Islanders’ bench with a 59-49-14 record.
It’s not the record that most damaged Weight’s chance of returning for the 2018-19 season, however. The Islanders had one of the league’s most potent attacks this past season, scoring at a rate commensurate with some of the league’s best. Only six teams, all of which appeared in the post-season and finished with at least 100 points, had more goals than the Islanders’ 261. Unfortunately, no team surrendered more goals against than New York, whose goaltenders got sunburnt by way of 293 goals against. The Islanders’ 3.57 goals against per game was the fourth-worst mark in the NHL's post-lockout era.
The unfortunate reality for the Islanders is that waiting as long as they have to fire Weight could mean their options for replacing him are limited. Two of the top college-to-NHL coaching options, David Quinn and Jim Montgomery, have found landing spots in the big league. Bill Peters left his job with the Carolina Hurricanes to join on with the Flames. And one of the top AHL coaching prospects, Todd Nelson, has joined the Dallas Stars as part of Montgomery’s staff. There are some options for the Islanders, however, including AHL bench boss Sheldon Keefe (who, as the Toronto Marlies coach, has some familiarity with Lamoriello) and recently fired NHL coach Alain Vigneault, who was with the New York Rangers for the past five seasons.
No matter who takes over behind the bench, though, it’s clear it’s the dawning of a new age in New York, and the Islanders have to be hoping that these moves go a long way in proving to Tavares — not to mention their long-suffering fanbase — that the franchise is really, truly heading in the right direction.
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