Chants of "Fire Cappy" have been raining down from the rafters at Barclays Center this year, but one writer thinks that gives Garth Snow a free pass.
The New York Daily News' Peter Botte says the Islanders general manager is complicit in this failure as well, as to place the blame solely on Jack Capuano is to overlook where the Isles' rebuild has truly stalled out.
"We wrote after the loss to the Lightning last May that the Islanders needed to add to what they had up front around superlative captain John Tavares if they were truly serious about taking the next step into championship contention," Botte wrote. "As an old friend (now a respected teacher) told me recently, going from an 'F' student to a 'C' or even a 'low-B' student often is the far easier progression than making that next jump into "A" territory. And that's where we are right now with the Islanders.
"Snow's days of buying himself more time with misdirection - in which he and his loyal messengers simply point to his bevy of first-round picks being "on the way" - are over now," Botte continued. "As if the 29 other teams aren't drafting and signing players every year, too. No, there is no more patient rebuild happening here. You wanted raised expectations? Well, you've got them."
I think this is definitely fair, though I see both sides of the argument. In one way, the Isles have seemingly taken a step back this season, and I think most fans and pundits alike viewed the Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera signings as lateral moves, at best. So it's on the general manager to fill the vacancies left by the free agent departures last offseason with productive NHL players, and so far, Ladd and Chimera have yet to produce.
That said, lateral wasn't necessarily a direction the Isles should have necessarily been afraid of. Snow's rebuild has made meaningful strides since its inception in 2007. They built through the draft, trades, and shrewd contract extensions. They have made the playoffs three of the last four years, and posted two 100-point seasons. They won a round in the playoffs, and had they been able to execute in the closing seconds of Game 3 against Tampa, maybe they could have gone even further. A bounce or two in a different direction and maybe this is an Eastern Conference Final team last year. Is that a direction anyone would want to run away from?
Of course, other fans will note that the writing seemed to be on the wall after the Isles' possession went down the tubes last season, and 2015-16's success wasn't sustainable, as it relied too heavily on the two goaltenders playing out of their minds. That's fair, but is that on the coach's system or the general manager?
It's easy to cherry pick and beat up on Snow. For example, people point to the Thomas Vanek trade as a huge failure, but I don't really get why. Matt Moulson was entering free agency, just like Vanek. Vanek combined with Tavares and Kyle Okposo to compose one of the best first lines in hockey that season, the lone campaign the Isles failed to make the playoffs in the last three. They protected themselves with the condition on the first rounder they traded, and chose properly when surrendering the pick (resulting in them netting Michael Dal Colle). And they still ended up with picks in that first round in the following year anyway, thanks to Snow's wheeling and dealing, that netted them Matt Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier. What was the big deal? That Sebastian Collberg (the prospect they got from Montreal for Vanek at the deadline) didn't pan out?
Botte points to the failure to swing a deal for Taylor Hall as a huge misstep, and I honestly think that's a little bit of revisionist history, even though I know some Islanders fans wouldn't have blinked at giving away Travis Hamonic in a Hall deal. Has there been such an obvious fit for a top line, "stud winger" out there that Snow missed?
Still, maybe Snow relied too heavily on an impressive rookie year from Ryan Strome, and didn't do enough to protect himself against a regression from Strome, Anders Lee, and Brock Nelson. But there's a fine line there, between giving young players too much responsibility, and messing with their development (something else the Isles have been accused of with players from Nino Niederreiter to Beauviller and Barzal). That sort of feels like a no-win proposition. Maybe the three goaltender scenario and the P.A. Parenteau waiving is more of an indication of his failings, derailing this season before it ever got off the ground?
Ultimately, there are a lot of questions that need answering, and a whole lot of blame to go around. And while Capuano is the primary target in most fan's crosshairs right now, suffice it to say that Snow won't elude them either should this slide continue.