Friday, July 16, 2010
When The GM Calls: 20 Minutes with Garth Snow
When the phone rang, I didn’t expect the voice on the other end to be that of Garth Snow fulfilling a request for an interview that was overdue. Luckily, I had my notes with me at work. As time has passed since I scheduled the interview, some of the questions no longer applied, but Garth Snow is a far better interviewee than I am a reporter so he kept the conversation going.
The NHL Free Agency period seems to be somewhat slow for the Islanders (to date the Islanders have added Forwards Zenon Konopka and P.A. Parenteau and Defensemen Milan Jurina and Mark Eaton), so I asked if he was done adding pieces to the Islander puzzle. “With all the unrestricted free agents that are still on the market, we feel if there is a fit that will help bolster our line-up, we’ll pursue it.”
A few hours after our call, the news of Dustin Kohn and Rob Schremp’s acceptance of their qualifying offers arrived, but no additional information has been released on the remaining free agents who spent last season in an Islander jersey.
As of July 15th, the biggest fish in the free agent pool is still swimming freely. The Islanders made a splash in the media earlier in the month when Garth Snow told ESPN that he made a call inquiring about Ilya Kovalchuk and claimed it was simply due diligence.
Two weeks later, the hockey world still awaits an answer from Kovalchuk as to his next home address. Knowing that Snow would never discuss negotiations, I simply asked him if he felt the media was being toyed with, or if they were the ones toying with the public. (I left out the idea that perhaps hockey fans were being “LeBroned.”)
“I think you have a dynamic player who scored 50 goals in this league and he’s in the prime of his career. And I think you have a situation where the player and the agent are taking their time and looking at all their options, whether it’s in the NHL or in the KHL. He’s probably one of the top UFAs at that position to be available the last few years.”
Matt Moulson was extended a qualifying offer and was the only Islander to file for arbitration this year. Personally, I don’t like the entire concept of arbitration and I want Matt Moulson to be happy on this team, so I asked Garth what he thought about Matt’s decision. It was not a surprise. It is simply part of the process. He assured me, “That doesn’t mean that a deal can’t be made before the hearing.” which is scheduled for July 27th.
On Wednesday, Deb Placey from MSG Tweeted that she bumped into Matt Moulson in CT and he said he hopes to stay on Long Island for a long time. There are plenty of us who hope for the same thing.
With the expected return of Rick DiPietro, I still wondered if the Islanders were looking to free agency for another insurance goaltender before the season starts, and was met with a definite “No.”
“No. At this point in time Rick has been doing great in his rehab and his training. He’s scheduled to start on the ice in the next few weeks here. Between Rick and Dwayne Roloson, we feel that is a strength in our organization. We also have Nathan Lawson, who we extended a qualifying offer and signed him shortly after. He’s coming off another excellent season. Nathan had a .922 save percentage. And sometimes people forget that he was on the All-Rookie Team for us in the AHL. We feel with Dwayne, Rick, Nathan Lawson -- and then Mikko Koskinen and Kevin Poulin will be in Bridgeport -- the depth at that position is one of the strengths of this organization.”
Indeed the Islanders have a matched set of young 6’5” goaltenders who are definitely impressive in net. Listed at 6’2”, Nate Lawson may look like Glenn Healy next to the Mikko Koskinen and Anders Nilsson.
Speaking of Bridgeport, I asked about ex-Sound Tiger Greg Mauldin, who left for the Avalanche after an impressive season on Jack Capuano’s bench. “That’s one of those things where he had what I thought was an excellent season in Bridgeport. We’re going to have a young team in Bridgeport. To me, the emphasis there is to develop and to win. When we win -- it’s going to be winning with young prospects and the opportunity for them of what they can experience in Bridgeport can only help our organization over the long haul.”
A Massachusetts native, Mauldin turned 28 on June 10th and had led the Sound Tigers with 54 points in 77 games this past season.
I did manage to get to prospect camp and was very impressed with what I witnessed both on the ice and off. But I was surprised that Kirill Petrov needed Kirill Kabanov to translate for him not only for the reporters but also for Scott Gordon.
“I think he has a better grasp of the language than what people may perceive. To me it was just great to see him participate in this prospect camp. It was unfortunate that he had the setback with his shoulder. But the people that witnessed him in the practices realize that he is a top end talent and he was probably one of the top players in the camp.”
It has been said that out of all that attended, Petrov is the closest to being ready to make the cut, but he still has two years remaining on his Russian contract. Snow has had success dealing with Petrov’s Russian club before. When I asked if he would be able to do anything about negotiating the remaining two years on Kirill’s contract, he let out a very sly laugh. “Time will tell.” If anyone can get Kirill Petrov to North America before the end of his Russian contract, it will be Garth Snow. If not -- he will wait.
Having harassed Mr. Snow with MY draft suggestions every chance I could get prior to the June 25th NHL Draft, I asked him his thoughts on Nino Niederreiter. I was secretly gloating on the other end of the phone that Nino had also been my choice.
“Nino? I thought he had an excellent camp. He’s obviously a great kid. I think you got to see his personality.” I was smiling ear to ear and interrupted Garth’s train of thought with a long winded “I told you so.” He laughed “And you know what, it is interesting to see when his birthday is. He’s a week away from being in NEXT year’s draft. So, I think he was the youngest player selected, and he’s a big boy. He definitely loves to go into the dirty areas in front of the net. A true power forward that puts the puck in the net.”
Niederreiter was the perfect choice for the NY Islanders and their fans.
The General Manager is very happy with what he witnessed at prospect camp, as well as the reception the Blue & Orange Scrimmage received from the over 5,000 Long Islanders that showed up. Maybe the attendance was helped by the fact that the roster was filled out with native Long Island boys; maybe not. But I asked if any of those home-grown hockey players had any shot at Scott Gordon’s team.
“I think when you look at most of those kids from Long Island; they are mostly NCAA student athletes. So they’ll go back to their respective teams. For us, it’s a situation where we can get a good look at future un-drafted free agents. I thought it definitely added a positive element by inviting Long Island kids. Because at the end of the day, if we can give an opportunity to local prospects and help them develop into NHL players, I just think it’s good for our community.”
In addition, it was two of the Long Island boys who scored the first two goals in that scrimmage, and the crowd cheered with hometown pride. The charity scrimmage, with tickets an affordable $10 each, is something that other NHL clubs have done before. No one was sure how it would go over here on the Island, and the expectation was only 1,500 patrons. When 5,000 showed up, it was obvious that hockey is alive on the Island and the change in plans that will put the Islanders’ September training camp in our own backyard can only increase fan interest. I do not know if another one of these charity events is planned for training camp, but I can hope.
I was ready to let the GM get back to business but remembered something while I was shooing people away from my door: Bryan Trottier. There are plenty of die-hard Islander fans who want to know what is going on with the legendary Islander, and the news of his reassignment worried many of them.
“He’s still going to be with the organization, it’s just going to be in a different capacity. I had a great conversation with Trotts and everything’s cool.”
It certainly is. Everything is cool here in Islander Country -- except this July heat wave.
**Many thanks to Tom Chiesa for all his help making me seem literate.