Vanek deals spelled trouble for Isles’ GM - The Buffalo News

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Vanek deals spelled trouble for Isles’ GM

Hello, my name is Garth Snow. You may remember me for absorbing punches from Steve Shields during the 1997 playoffs or for wearing goalie equipment that would be too big on Godzilla.

Nowadays, I’m the general manager of the New York Islanders. Sports Illustrated named me the NHL Executive of the Year in 2007, but you probably don’t remember that. I’ve gotten more attention for signing Rick DiPietro to a 15-year contract and for losing two Thomas Vanek trades in one season. Owner Charles Wang is really looking forward to 2029, when that DiPietro buyout will be paid off.

My next big decision is what to do with this year’s No. 5 overall draft pick. I could give it to Buffalo as part of the deal that got me Vanek, or I can keep it and give the Sabres my 2015 first-round pick instead. (I really should say “Islanders” instead of “my” for 2015 because who knows if I’ll still be employed by then.)

As far as decisions go, this isn’t as easy as drafting John Tavares first overall in 2009. Heck, I had easier questions while getting my master’s degree in education administration at the University of Maine.

Sabres GM Tim Murray says his team has a 50-50 chance of getting the Islanders’ 2014 pick, and that’s true for Buffalo. From my standpoint, however, there’s a 33.3 percent chance. We actually have three choices here on the island, and we need to make one by June 1. Let’s go through them.

1. Give the pick to Buffalo. The best part about this is we rip off the bandage and move on with our lives. We’ll add the lost selection to the scrap heap that was 2013-14, a season that saw Tavares tear up his knee at the Olympics, Lubomir Visnovsky miss 58 games with a concussion, Michael Grabner go 31 games without a goal and our team miss the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons.

The biggest benefit is we retain our 2015 first-round pick. If we happen to sit out the postseason yet again next season, at least the Isles will have a chance to win the draft lottery and pick franchise-altering players Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. (Again, I said “Isles” because if we miss the playoffs how in the world will I keep my job? Mr. Wang really, really, really likes me, but that might be pushing it.)

The hardest part about giving Buffalo the pick will be telling our small but dedicated fan base on Long Island that all the pain was for nothing. We stunk and we don’t have a high draft pick to show for it? We’d probably drop from 26th in attendance to 29th. Thank goodness the Coyotes built their arena in Glendale, Ariz., rather than Scottsdale or we’d go all the way to 30th.

2. Keep the pick and use it. This is the easiest option. I don’t have to do anything but wait for Commissioner Gary Bettman to tell us we’re on the clock with the fifth pick. Truth be told, us Islanders have recently become fond of No. 5.

I took Ryan Strome with the fifth pick in 2011. This season, the rookie forward put up seven goals and 18 points in 37 games and had 13 goals and 49 points in 37 games with our minor-league team. I took Nino Niederreiter at No. 5 in 2010, and he’s a really good forward. Just ask Minnesota, which got him from me for ... Cal Clutterbuck.

I’m starting to think trades aren’t my strong suit, but I can draft. In addition to Tavares and Strome, we’ve had Calvin de Haan, Josh Bailey, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, Casey Cizikas, Travis Hamonic, Anders Nilsson and Matt Martin make contributions. I’m sure the No. 5 pick will play for the Islanders at some point soon.

Plus, we get one last draft party at Nassau Coliseum if we keep the pick. We’re moving to Brooklyn for 2015-16. This will give the real Long Islanders a final blue-chip prospect to cheer for when they watch us on TV rather than take the subway to Jay-Z’s hot new arena.

3. Keep the pick and trade it. This will take some work, but it might be the best and most intriguing option on the list.

It can benefit us now, take the sting out of giving up the 2015 pick and even get us a replacement selection for next year’s draft.

If a team is willing to give up a good roster player for the pick, we should be able to make the postseason next year. Tavares will be back and Grabner will be better. Vanek didn’t want our owner’s $50 million, but some quality free agent will love the idea of playing alongside Tavares and getting advertising opportunities across the river from Manhattan.

We can go on a nice run, and the pick we give Buffalo in 2015 will be late in the draft and not have McDavid or Eichel attached to it. Isles fans will accept that easier than coughing up a No. 5 overall selection.

Though teams are loathe to give up their 2015 first-rounders, maybe we can trade down this year and create a package deal that will get us a pick next year. That way we can relax knowing that Buffalo has ours but we have another one to use.

Whichever decision we make here on Long Island, it’s sure to be a good one. After all, the words “good decision” are pretty much synonymous with the New York Islanders and Garth Snow, right? (Please don’t answer that.)

Trouble in Carolina

At least the Sabres know where they need to improve. Their nemesis down south has questions.

Carolina is having trouble picking up the pieces from its fifth straight playoff-less season. The players aren’t in sync with the coach, who has one year left on his contract, and management is expected to change for the first time since the team moved from Hartford in 1997.

“I really believe with our group, playing the system, being healthy, we can be a good hockey team,” coach Kirk Muller said. “But we need everybody.”

Everybody certainly would include captain Eric Staal and goalie Cam Ward. Neither gave their blessing to Muller as they cleaned out their lockers.

“Everybody has to do a better job than we did,” Staal said. “That includes the coaches.”

Ward, who has two seasons left on a six-year deal that pays $6.3 million annually, fought injuries but had just an .898 save percentage and 3.06 goals-against average in 30 appearances. He lost playing time to Anton Khudobin and was asked if Muller’s message had a hard time getting through to the team.

“For me, obviously, I’m going to avoid that one,” Ward said.

Muller seems safe for now, but GM Jim Rutherford, who was hired in 1994, is expected to retire. The new GM will have to straighten out the dissension.

On the fly

• The league will examine possible tweaks to the draft lottery, but Edmonton’s Scott Howson wants to make sure all non-playoff teams still get a chance at the No. 1 pick. “When you finish like Washington in 14th, it’s the worst place to finish because you don’t get the high pick but you’re out of the playoffs,” said the Oilers’ senior vice president of hockey operations. “So I kind of like the fact that they have a chance to go all the way to one. I’m a proponent of this system.”

• The Senators will keep coach Paul MacLean, but they expect him to be the 2013 Coach of the Year, not the 2014 dictator. “The players like the old Paul,” GM Bryan Murray said. “They liked the guy who sat and talked to them and treated them in a more easygoing fashion, that talked, not confronted. There were some mistakes, obviously.”

• The Sabres’ last two goaltending coaches are looking for work at the same time. Buffalo let go of Jim Corsi last week. Mitch Korn, who left for Nashville in 1998, doesn’t have a contract for next season and is weighing his options now that Barry Trotz is off the Predators’ bench.

• Ottawa owner Eugene Melnyk: “We’d go in and beat up on the best teams and then come back and miss what I call the 2-foot putts. Losing to the Islanders, what’s that all about?”


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