GM Garth Snow's trade market miscalculation will put the Isles in a sticky situation in June. (Getty Images)
By Allan Muir
Wednesday was another bad day in a long line of them for Garth Snow, a man who probably thought he might salvage a lost season on Long Island with a bravura performance at the trade deadline but instead cemented his reputation as the Charlie Brown of NHL general managers, the one whose clothes fly off in all directions when each pitch he throws is hit for a screaming comebacker.
While the deadline efforts of his peers will require the benefit of time and distance to adequately judge their success, the work of the Islanders GM needs no such perspective.
It was a disaster.
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While Buffalo's dynamic duo of Darcy Regier (since fired) and his replacement, Tim Murray, were ultimately able to turn impending free agent Thomas Vanek into a first-round pick, three second-rounders, and forward Torrey Mitchell for the Sabres, all Snow could muster was a conditional second rounder (it's gone if Montreal fails to make the playoffs) and prospect forward Sebastien Collberg.
Get that? Buffalo walks away with four picks and an affordable depth forward for Vanek. Snow gets the football yanked away just as he leans into it and the endless rebuild on Long Island takes another step backwards.
Of all the Garth Snows in the world, he's the Garth Snowiest.
In his deadline postmortem, er, press conference on Wednesday, Snow explained away his performance by saying it had been an "unusual" day.
"It wasn't the action you usually see at the trade deadline," he said. "We were very fortunate for the deal we made."
That's one way to put it and maybe it's true, considering how close he came to the even greater calamity of failing to move Vanek at all and being stuck with the reluctant player through the end of the season before losing him for nothing or perhaps settling for a mid-round pick in exchange for the rights to the winger ahead of the free agency negotiating window.
But there was nothing fortunate about that deal with Montreal. Snow overplayed his hand and got caught. Many Islanders fans were stunned that he traded for Vanek in the first place.
It was the kind of move a GM makes when his team is one potent rental piece away from becoming a serious playoff force if not a Stanley Cup contender. The Islanders, however, were coming off their first postseason appearance in six years, a respectable one-and-done showing against Pittsburgh that wildly inflated front office expectations, and slow getting out of the chute at 4-4-3.
"I didn't like the way we'd been playing," Snow explained to Newsday after the Oct. 27 trade. "We're better than our record indicates and we need to take the next step. Thomas is an elite player in this league and he'll help us now and in the future."
Right. Never mind that Vanek, a two-time 40-goal man, did nothing to address the team's questions on the backline and in net. The deal with Buffalo was shocking in that it cost the Islanders Matt Moulson, a fan favorite and three-time 30-goal scorer who had a very productive chemistry with center John Tavares, plus a chunk of the future: a conditional first-rounder (the Isles can keep it if they end up on the golf course at the conclusion of the regular schedule) and a 2015 second-rounder. And when Vanek, set to become an unrestricted free agent after the season, arrived on the Island amid chatter that he was ultimately interested in signing with Minnesota after the season, you could see Lucy smirking as she readied the football for Charlie.
Naturally, the retooled Isles promptly went 5-15-4 and wound up flat on their backs as injuries added the insult. When Vanek turned up his nose at their seven-year, $50 million extension offer in early February, he set the stage for Snow's next attempt at kicking the pigskin.
To be fair, Snow wasn't the only general manager who made a major mistake on deadline day, but that doesn't make his mistake any less damaging. There's nothing wrong with trying to set the market high -- he'd be remiss if he didn't -- but it should have been obvious to him early on that there wasn't going to be a line of peers outside his door eager to woo him with first rounders and fresh-baked cookies.
Vanek may have been the best rental available, but he wasn't the only scoring winger out there. Shoppers also had their choice of Moulson and Marian Gaborik and Mike Cammalleri who, by remaining in Calgary, proved that supply outstripped demand this year. And it doesn't take a degree in economics to understand what that does to the market.
Amazingly, that wasn't even his biggest mistake of the day.
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Ten goalies, including three Olympians, changed hands as the deadline approached. Ten. And yet somehow not one of them ended up on Long Island, where the Blue and Orange have allowed a league-worst 217 goals and now have to play out the string in front of Evgeni Nabokov and his 36th-ranked .902 save percentage.
That failure further highlights the epic miscalculation of the deal that brought Vanek to New York. Snow was inclined to trade impending UFA Moulson, but he should have filled the Isles' gaping hole between the pipes with the return. Instead he overpaid for Vanek and watched his team crumble before selling the winger to the Habs for pennies on the dollar when he found himself cornered by the deadline.
A decent goalie could have minimized the damage done by the Moulson/Vanek trade by allowing Snow to turn over a pick that was buried deeper into the first round. The Isles now have an excellent shot at making one of the top three selections in June. But keeping that pick will mean handing Buffalo a 2015 first-rounder with franchise-altering forwards Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel up for grabs. Does that sound appealing?
Snow wasn't alone in making gaffes yesterday. Boston's Peter Chiarelli gave up a third rounder for Andrei Meszaros when he could have had Stephane Robidas for a fourth. Ray Shero of the Penguins paid essentially the same price for Marcel Goc as Ottawa did for Ales Hemsky: a third and a fifth.
But guys like Chiarelli and Shero have earned the occasional mulligan after years of success. Their bags are filled with candy. All Garth Snow ever gets is a rock.
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