Garth Snow and the Islanders Free Agency Flop

Aug 8, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Islanders general manager Garth Snow speaks at a press conference at Yankee Stadium. Two outdoor regular-season NHL games will be played at Yankee Stadium during the 2013-14 season as part of the 2014 Stadium Series. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

July 1st came and went like a hurricane and when it was all said and done, over $400 million in guaranteed money was thrown around as general managers made it rain across the league.  The exception of course (which should come as no surprise), was once again Garth Snow and the New York Islanders who decided that a team with no playoff appearances in six of the last seven years and straight off another bottom-five finish was in good enough shape to let the day come and go with no impact moves.

To be fair, we’ll get this out of the way up front: the team did trade for and sign Jaroslav Halak prior to July 1st, thus upgrading the biggest weakness the Islanders have had the last few seasons in net.  Sure Halak probably understood the landscape of goalies and knew there wasn’t much out there for him.  But the Islanders signed him, so kudos.  Now that we got the warm and fuzzy stuff out of the way, back to the real issues at hand.

Go re-read that first paragraph again.  This is a team that has made one playoff appearance since 2007.  They haven’t won a playoff series since 1993.  They have been a fixture of the draft lottery in recent years.  They currently sit $24 million below the salary cap, or as Islander fans interpret it, $6 million below the cap floor.  The payroll has been in the bottom five of the league the last seven seasons.  Yet on day one of free agency, when teams like Florida, Edmonton, and Buffalo made significant efforts to improve their on-ice product, the Islanders added a backup goaltender and AHL fodder.

The team has been a circus with its two ringleaders- owner Charles Wang and general manager Garth Snow- running the show.  Not only have they continually sold a poor product to their fanbase, they actually have the audactiy to say they have our best interests in minds.  Whether it’s Garth Snow telling season ticket holders that he won’t waste their money, or even as recently after the entry draft where Snow had the gall to say the only thing they care about is the fans.  Really?  If their actions are considered “caring”, I don’t even want to think about what they would do if they didn’t think about us fans.

Each year it’s the same routine with this team: tout the first round pick drafted as part of the “core”, tell everyone how aggressive you will be in free agency, watch from the sidelines as players get snatched up left and right, tell the media how you tried really hard and no one wants our money because of the building or some nonsense like that.

A few tips for Garth Snow: (1) you don’t get points for trying…you either add players or you don’t, and (2) did you ever think the reason why no one wants your money is because you and Wang have been a disgrace?  I mean, do you blame guys like Thomas Vanek or Dan Boyle for not wanting to join this circus?

So what are we left with as fans?  Garth Snow telling us that he is satisfied with this “core” (you know, the one with 2 playoff wins under their belts) and that we aren’t going to overpay for free agents.  So what exactly are we selling them on?  The beaches?  Proximity to New York City?  The wineries?  I’d love to be a fly on the wall during one of his contract negotiations: “listen, we haven’t won a playoff series in over 20 years, we operate on a shoestring budget, and we’re the butt of jokes for all other teams.  But hey, how about Jones Beach?  Oh, and we’ll be in Brooklyn next year, so come on down!”  Players want to win and get paid, and not necessarily in that order.  If you aren’t offering them a chance to win or the most money by a significant margin, why even bother?

The even more perplexing thing about yesterday’s inactivity? It’s not like the Islanders have a first round pick to fall back on next year if things go south with the team since they traded it to Buffalo last year.  So the happiest guy yesterday in hockey?  No doubt Sabre general manager Tim Murray.

But the excuse machine comes from not only management, but even some fans: “Matt Niskanen isn’t worth that money, we dodged one there,” “he isn’t worth that extra half million bucks for two seasons, thank God we didn’t get him,” etc.  It’s like fans have their own perverse Stockholm syndrome dealing with the team.  No player is ever good enough, no contract ever wise enough.  “Sure, the Capitals landed Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, but look at those contracts…I’m sure glad we didn’t sign them.”  Hey, great.  Let’s enjoy more Brian Strait and Thomas Hickey instead.  Having cap space and not using it doesn’t make you some brilliant organization…it makes you cheap and not willing to put a better product on the ice for the fans you claim to so sorely care about.  You don’t think players notice these things either?

Listen, I get it that it’s a long summer and there will be plenty of player movement before the season starts.  But it’s disheartening as a fan to watch the last week transpire and feel like your best chances of improving the team this year have come and gone.  I was hopeful they would make a move at the draft to acquire an established player.  Hell, Garth Snow even went so far as to say he was looking in that direction.  And while the kids they took may one day be good players, they aren’t helping the team this year.  It’s more of the same: “hope” and “patience” being shoved down our throats by the team.  Enough is enough.  Actually, enough was two years ago.

We fans deserve better.  We don’t deserve to be ridiculed, spit on, crapped on, and have to endure losing season upon losing season.  The organization has failed and it has no one to blame but itself.  When ownership doesn’t want to spend money to help the problem, this is the result you get.  When management doesn’t make wise decisions with the money they have, this is the result you get.  It’s a perpetual cycle of garbage that just never seems to end.

People will say that things look great on the farm…that the kids are going to be special and help build the next great team. And while these youngsters may turn out to be deserving of such praise, they aren’t there yet and they won’t get there without proper support.  Look at the Blackhawks and Penguins.  Yes, they had a handful of high draft picks to rebuild, but they also spent money on acquiring veteran help.  They just didn’t expect a team of all 20-somethings to wake up one day and be great.  Management recognized they needed a blend of youth and veterans if they wanted to contend.  Garth Snow still hasn’t learned that, or even worse, has learned it and has completely failed in addressing it.

It’s funny, but this is the one piece I publish that I pray I have to eat crow on.  Nothing would make me happier a month from now, a week from now, hell, even later today, for the team to swing a big trade and land a big time forward or defensemen and have someone throw this back in my face.  I’d welcome it and even take back 20% of the bad things I’ve spewed about the team the last few seasons.  But does any fan truly believe that will be the case?  I’m already prepping for a cap dump for the equivalent of this year’s Brian Rolston in August and then Garth Snow telling us how we really believe in this team and just need some players to elevate their play to make the playoffs (oh, he already said something like that last night?  Damnit…)

The sad reality for us Islander fans is that we’re stuck in limbo right now and there’s nothing we can do about it.  We’re hopeful the rumored sale of the team will take place this summer, but as an Islander fan, how optimistic  can we really be until it occurs?  We’ve been trained to think that anything that could go wrong with this team probably will.  Until then we have endure more Garth Snow arrogance and Charles Wang penny-pinching.  I’m pretty confident that if Dante were around today he’d add another circle of hell: being an Islander fan.

Garth Snow caused an uproar at the draft last week when he cursed on live television, telling the world that he’s been crapped on as general manager.  Garth, you made your bed and now you have to lay in it.  You think you’re the smartest guy in the room so I’m sure you can figure out why you’re the butt of jokes.  But let’s make one thing clear: the people who have been crapped on the most by the league, media, and even our own team are the Islander fans and that won’t change with you in charge.