Ranking the Rebuilds #3…The New York Islanders.

New York Islanders' John Tavares reacts after scoring the winning goal during the overtime period of Game 3 of a first-round NHL hockey playoff series against the Washington Capitals Sunday, April 19, 2015, in Uniondale, N.Y. The Islanders defeated the Capitals 2-1. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
New York Islanders’ John Tavares reacts after scoring the winning goal during the overtime period of Game 3 of a first-round NHL hockey playoff series against the Washington Capitals Sunday, April 19, 2015, in Uniondale, N.Y. The Islanders defeated the Capitals 2-1. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

For more than a few seasons, Garth Snow was mocked as one of the worst General Managers in hockey.

I have to say that much of that mockery came from fans of the Edmonton Oilers who have become very familiar with incompetent management through the tenures of Kevin Lowe, Steve Tambellini and Craig McTavish but we’ll get to that later in this series.

The Snow era began in an odd way back in 2006 when oddball owner Charles Wang promoted Snow immediately upon his retirement as the Isles goaltender.

From Wikipedia:

On July 18, 2006, Snow officially confirmed his retirement and was named general manager of the New York Islanders following Neil Smith‘s dismissal after 41 days on the job.[2] There was much criticism directed the Islanders way for firing a Stanley Cup-winning GM after such a short tenure in favor of Snow, who at the time of his hiring held no experience in management.

Defenders of the organization pointed to Snow’s Master’s Degree in Administration and Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of Maine.[3]

In Snow’s first season as GM, he earned praise for making moves to open up space under the salary cap and using the space to trade for Marc-André BergeronRichard Zedník and Ryan Smyth. Snow was named NHL Executive of the Year for 2006–07 by Sports Illustrated.[4] Snow also received a great deal of praise from commenters on XM Radio[5] and other reports for his organization’s picks in the 2008 and 2009 entry drafts. In 2012, Snow reportedly offered all seven of the Islanders’ draft picks – one in each round, including the fourth overall – to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for the second overall pick. Columbus GM Scott Howson turned down the trade offer, and the Islanders ended up picking defenceman Griffin Reinhart at number four.[6]

Snow took over a team that had missed the playoffs the previous season with a 36-40-6 record and, while the Islanders would squeak into the playoffs the following season (when Snow acquired Ryan Smyth from the Oilers), they would go to miss the post season in the subsequent 5 seasons.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when (or if) the Islanders embarked on a full on rebuild but they hit rock bottom in the 2008-09 season when they finished dead least in the NHL with 62 points so, for our purposes we’ll use that as a starting point as to when Snow started returning his team to respectability.

Following that dismal season, the Islanders were “rewarded” at the NHL draft when they picked cornerstone player John Tavares at #1 overall.

But Tavares was not the only player Snow identified in that draft which has set the Islanders up for much more of their relative recent success:

#1 John Tavares

#12 Calvin de Haan

#62 Anders Nilsson

#92 Casey Cizikas

#152 Anders Lee

That the Islanders were able to pluck 5 actual NHL players from one draft is remarkable and they were able to obtain a couple more in the 2010 draft.

#5 Nino Niederreiter (since traded)

#30 Brock Nelson

In the 2011 draft, the Islanders continued to build up the middle by selecting Ryan Strome #5 overall and then, in the 2012 draft, Snow and his team, went all in selecting a defenseman with all 7 of their picks.

First among those, of course, was Griffin Reinhart who Snow would have preferred not to draft but, as noted above, Columbus refused to trade their #2 overall pick (Ryan Murray) for all 7 of the Isles picks.

But, if nothing else, that draft indicates Snow knows the value of strong D prospect depth and he followed that draft by selecting Ryan Pulock #15 overall in 2013.

While Griffin Reinhart has been discarded after being passed on the depth chart, it’s worth noting that the Isles have a tremendous number of those picks ripening in the AHL with Scott Mayfield, Ville Pokka, Adam Pelech and Pulock all playing significant roles in Bridgeport.

After loading up on D, Snow has spent the past 2 drafts stockpiling forwards with high end potential:

#5 2014 Michael Dal Colle

#28 2014 Josh Ho Sang

#16 2015 Mat Barzal

#28 Anthony Beauvillier

As we’ve seen, Snow has never been timid about swinging draft day deals like the one in which he traded a spare part like Reinhart to acquire extra picks, and from this point of view, he’s been tremendously successful although it’s early to make a call on some of those picks.

Hockey’s Future has the Islanders team prospect ranking at #2 and it’s very difficult to disagree:

Strengths: Now that the New York Islanders have turned the corner, they are in a prime position to contend for the Stanley Cup for the years ahead thanks to their strong farm system. While Ryan Strome and Anders Lee graduated, there is still top-six talent developing on the wings in Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang. Defense has become the strongest unit in the system as Griffin Reinhart, Ryan Pulock, and Scott Mayfield are the next wave of youth that look to shore up the Islanders on the backend. Behind them are a deep, diverse group of players that may slot into depth roles. Toughness is another attribute amongst the skaters. There is quality and promising potential in the goaltending pool with Ilya Sorokin, Linus Soderstrom, and Stephon Williams.

Interesting that HF had Reinhart listing as the Isles’ top prospect but that Snow didn’t agree and dealt from a position of tremendous strength to acquire a couple more blue chip prospects.

With 2008 draft Travis Hamonic, de Haan and the aforementioned picks all jockeying for a spot on the big club you would think Snow would have been somewhat reticent to add veteran D to his stable but a year ago he patiently waited for Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk to become available and plucked them from their cap strapped teams after astutely picking up former #4 overall pick in 2007 Thomas Hickey when the LA Kings put him on waivers.

It can’t be stated often enough that centre depth is a key to building a winning team and Snow has not been recalcitrant on that front either.

John Tavares

Ryan Strome

Mikael Grabovski

Anders Lee

Frans Neilsen

Brock Nelson

Casey Cizikas

Josh Ho Sang

That’s 7 actual NHL centres folks with Ho Sang bubbling under. That may be the best centre depth in the entire league and it has allowed Snow to focus on adding highly skilled players in the draft and through trades and free agent signings.

I would imagine that both Ho Sang and Barzal will debut as wingers and will be vying for a roster spot with highly touted power forward Michael Dal Colle.

An eventual 1st line that might include Tavares, Dal Colle and Barzal could be a thing of beauty.

For more than a few years, the Islanders glaring weakness was in goal but Snow has also addressed that issue with the signing of Jaroslav Halak and backup Thomas Griess who should provide at least league average goaltending. Considering the Islanders were the 4th best team in the league in GF/GP last season at 2.99, it’s not hard to imagine the Islanders will improve on the 101 points they garnered last season with the maturation of their young D and the addition of significant firepower from their young draft picks.

I don’t think anyone with credibility is calling out Garth Snow any longer and it’s with noting that he has built a contender all while having more than $8 million in free cap space pending the signing of RFA Brock Nelson.

Rebuild over!

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