"I'm just so excited about where we are as a team."
That was Garth Snow's proclamation to me just over one month ago when I took part in a preseason 'blogger's round table' with the general manager of the New York Islanders. He was excited and ready to see the team that he built perform on the ice. Now in his fifth season in a role that he had been suddenly thrust into during the tumultuous summer of 2006, Snow seemed at ease discussing a range of topics with those in attendance that afternoon.
"When I was in college the reason why I was motivated to get my degree and my Master's Degree was that I wasn't sure [if] I was going to be a pro hockey player," Snow revealed. He eventually became one, though, having been selected 114th overall in the 1987 draft by Quebec. He went on to a fairly accomplished career, as it would turn out, spending twelve seasons in the NHL and winning 135 games.
But to hear him tell it, becoming a general manager, assistant GM, college coach, or even a college athletic director were roles that he envisioned for himself when his playing days were through. "Those were the things that intrigued me if I didn't make it to the NHL."
Snow says he doesn't miss playing, but adds an exception. "I miss the feeling of taking your equipment off after you've just won a game. And that bond you have inside the locker room." He continued, "You go on the road and steal two points. It's just a great feeling celebrating on the other team's ice. Or the intensity of playoff hockey."
The group asked him several questions about this year's team and his approach on improving it further. During his tenure Snow has built a reputation as a shrewd deal maker and master of the "scrap heap" find.
He pledges to do "whatever is allowed under the Collective Bargaining Agreement" to improve the Islanders, including targeting other team's restricted free agents.
On the subject of trades, he told the group that he only judges potential ones on the impact it has for his club. He's not willing to "mortgage the future" at the trading deadline, as he put it. And he plans on keeping the Islanders' young core together with contract extensions in the near future.
Despite living in an age of intrusive and constant media, especially with the rise of social media, Snow still does things the old fashioned way. He's not a Twitter user, and keeps information such as potential draft picks within a very small circle. He claims that only he and Charles Wang knew of the impeding pick of John Tavares minutes before the selection was made. It was also that kind of secrecy that allowed the team to trade down in the previous year's draft and select center Josh Bailey.
While the Isles have hit some very large injury potholes since our talk, the team is still outperforming what most so-called "experts" predicted. And that is by design. He lauded the merits of captain Doug Weight, saying that Weight handles many team issues that never make it out of the locker room. And Snow personally discusses contract issues and training camp invitations with players and/or their agents, citing three examples (Richard Park, Andy Hilbert, and Jon Sim) from the previous summer. He explained the reasoning behind each decision and his need for payroll flexibility. So if you were wondering if Snow is hands-on, I think you have your answer.
But according to Snow, how long he and head coach Scott Gordon coach stay in their current jobs all comes down to winning.
"We obviously have a passionate fan base," said Snow. "Fans that live and die [for] this team. Our goal is to obviously make the playoffs and once you get in to compete for a Stanley Cup."
He is confident that he has the Islanders on the right path. He used Bailey's growth as a player as an example of the greater team maturation that has taken place right before his (and the fans') eyes. "I think [they're] going to be a fun team to watch. It's a good mix of skill, speed, and toughness. But at the end of the day you've got to win."