It wasn't all that long ago when Garth Snow
was stopping pucks for the New York Islanders
, the final stop in a five-team, 12-season career for the 1987 sixth-round draft pick of the Quebec Nordiques.
Yet Snow is already in his sixth season as general manager of the Islanders, a position he was named to on the same day he officially announced his retirement. Snow, who earned an MBA from the University of Maine, said during Thursday night's appearance on "NHL Hour with Commissioner Gary Bettman" that being part of a front office had appealed to him.
"It was something that was always in the back of my mind if a hockey career didn't materialize," Snow said. "It was something that I had a great interest in, whether it was in management with a professional team or in college coaching or something in that realm. That was always something for me that when my career was done that I wanted to pursue."
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Snow described his transition as fairly seamless, but it hasn't been without its challenges. The Islanders qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs on the final day of his first season in 2006-07, but haven't been back since. Snow has spent the past five years working to rebuild the team, mostly through the draft, while owner Charles Wang has been attempting to come to an agreement with Nassau County on the construction of a new arena for the Islanders to replace the increasingly antiquated Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
The Islanders will enter their game in Ottawa on Friday at least 10 points out of a playoff spot, but the nucleus of young players Snow has assembled is providing hope that even if a postseason berth doesn't come this season, it's on the way soon.
No one embodies that hope more than the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, John Tavares
. In his third season, Tavares has taken the next step in his development. He has 22 goals and 53 points in 49 games -- numbers that put him on pace to shatter his sophomore stats -- and earlier this week was named the NHL's First Star for January after becoming the first Islander to lead the League in points for a month since Bryan Trottier
in November 1980.
"John's been great for our organization since the day we drafted him," Snow said. "Obviously people see the high-end skill set that he possesses, the world-class talent, the vision, the work ethic, never giving up on a puck. Even this year you see him, he's transformed his game from a point-producing game into a two-way game.
"At most points in a game when a big faceoff is to be had, he's out there on the ice, whether it's to preserve a one-goal (lead) or we're tied in the last few minutes of a game and we need a big goal, like we did in Carolina (on Tuesday), he's the first one to be on the ice. He's been a great player for us, but what's really the most impressive thing about John is his work ethic, his professionalism. He leaves no stone unturned to try to be the best player he can be."
Center - NYI
GOALS: 22 | ASST: 31 | PTS: 53
SOG: 184 | +/-: 4
Snow also spoke about the crop of draft picks the Islanders harvested one year before taking Tavares, a group that included Josh Bailey
(first round), Travis Hamonic
(second round), Kevin Poulin
(fifth round) and Matt Martin
"We've been in this rebuild for the last five years, and I think now our fans are getting to see what our team can do," Snow said.
They're doing it under the guidance of coach Jack Capuano
, who led the Islanders to a strong second half last season after taking over for Scott Gordon
on Nov. 15, 2010. Snow remembered Capuano as an assistant for the Islanders in his second-to-last season as a player, who later went down to AHL Bridgeport and became a coach before eventually getting his chance at the NHL level.
"He's got a great relationship with the players, a very good communicator," Snow said. "It's a situation where his X's and O's are second-to-none. And the relationship that he has with the players -- a lot of them that are in our lineup now he had in Bridgeport, so I think there was a comfort level there. I can't say enough good things about what Jack and the staff have done."
Snow also praised Wang as "a brilliant mind" and someone whose commitment to the Islanders has been reflected in the number of core players willing to sign long-term contracts with the team.
He also recognizes what Wang has been up against trying to get a new arena and understands its importance in the long-term viability of the team in Nassau County. Whenever the Islanders are on the road, in buildings like the RBC Center in Carolina or the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, there's inevitably talk amongst the players about how nice it would be to have similar amenities for 41 home games per season -- as Snow pointed out, they can spend in the neighborhood of 10 hours at the arena on a game day.
There's also the issue of attracting free agents -- something Snow said has been difficult for the Islanders due in part to the Coliseum.
Earlier this week, the Isles announced that the team will play the first hockey game at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, a preseason date against the New Jersey Devils
"For us to play in a state-of-the-art facility like the Barclays Center is something we're really looking forward to," Snow said. "When I talked to the players, there was an excitement in the locker room to have an opportunity to play a home game in a facility like the Barclays Center."