The best piece of wisdom I've ever heard about the art of trading hockey players was shared about 15 years ago by a visiting assistant general manager in the Coliseum press box.
"One thing about trades," he said between shovels of popcorn, "nobody knows the players in these deals better than the team trading them."
A few years later, on Feb. 27, 2007, I recalled this insight when Garth Snow called me down to his office. At the time, which was less than an hour before the NHL trade deadline, I was drafting a statement to explain why the Islanders decided not to make a major deal. You know, "We weren't going to mortgage the future for a rental," and, "The other teams really were pushing for our great prospects." That sort of thing. Richard Zednik and Marc-Andre Bergeron, acquired earlier, would have to suffice.
I walked down to Garth's office. Ken Morrow, the pro scouting director then and now, was also there. Kenny was smiling, but Kenny's always smiling, so I wasn't sure what was up until…
"Made a trade," said Garth. "Guess who we got."
"I'm not gonna do that, because if I guess someone better than you got, you're gonna be annoyed." (Like guessing someone's age, a no-win situation).
"Ryan Smyth," Snowy said with a straight face.
"Captain Frickin' Canada?!" I said, my jaw on the ground.
Snow asked, "What do you think?"
Now, as you may understand, having announced trades for the Islanders for a decade previously, there was a vital part missing from the equation.
"What did we give up?" I asked, silently praying.
"Nilsson…O'Marra…and a first," said the first-year GM.
"Well, you know these kids better than anyone," I said. "Good enough for me. Even if we can't re-sign him, we got Ryan Smyth."
The next day, in a spare locker room at the Coliseum packed with reporters, mostly from Ontario to Alberta, Snow walked up to the podium to talk about the massive deal and said, "Who knew hockey was so popular in Canada?"
That was almost eleven years ago. Snow has not made a significant trade of positive consequences between New Year's Day and the trade deadline since. In his defense, the Islanders were bad enough in many years to be sellers, not buyers. There was also the big, early-season acquisition of Thomas Vanek.
But what happened to that rookie riverboat gambler of a GM? Patience is one thing -- inactivity something different.
A move needs to be done in the next few weeks. The defense stinks, and - be real, friends - the blueline corps' performance was among the worst in the league even before the average Calvin de Haan and fading Johnny Boychuk were put on the injured list.
The Islanders have two supreme lines, and not much behind them. A No. 1 goaltender is a tough get this time of year, Tim Thomas/salary cap minimum jokes aside.
It's interesting to look back at some of the GMs who made trades that day in 2007 when Snow shocked the league by dealing for Smyth: Ray Shero for Pittsburgh, Dean Lombardi for LA, Jay Feaster for Tampa Bay - all Cup winners, since fired. Only David Poile, Ken Holland, and Doug Wilson have been in their jobs longer than Snow.
Through a combination of boardroom charm and Chiarelli, Snow is still standing more than a decade later, despite managing this franchise to not a single noteworthy success, despite landing the Gift of Tavares by failing.
This year's team, for all of its thrilling talent at the top, has won 20 of its first 39 games, and sits eighth in the conference, fifth in the division. If Tavares has been taking his time to re-sign because of questions about the future of the team, knowing there will be an arena in Elmont in three or four years is only part of the answer. Nine years after he was drafted, Tavares was hoping for more than just to scrap for a wild card spot every season.
Like he did when he discarded O'Marra and Nilsson, and later Griffin Reinhart and Ryan Strome, Snow has demonstrated that he knows what he has, and what to give up.
Now it's time for Snow to rediscover his gambler's guts from the Smyth trade. It's time for Snow to do something.