Snow reflects on career, positioning Isles for move
NHL.com will periodically be doing a series called "Five Questions With ...," a Q&A with some of the key movers and shakers in the game today aimed to gain some insight into their lives and careers.
This edition features New York Islanders general manager Garth Snow:
With a move to a new arena in Brooklyn three years away, Islanders GM Garth Snow will soon be unshackled from the antiquated facility that has ruined countless sales pitches he's attempted to give every July 1 since 2007.
Snow figures the Islanders move 25 miles away to Barclays Center, set for the opening of the 2015-16 NHL season, immediately gives him the opportunity to sell the Islanders' future, Long Island and New York City to free agents who typically wouldn't have given him much more than the courtesy of answering the phone.
"That certainty of where we're going to be is crucial," Snow told NHL.com on Tuesday.
Snow's job now is to continue building the Islanders' bridge to Brooklyn. It's a job he started in earnest more than six years ago, when as a rehabbing aging goaltender he received an opportunity too good to pass up on, an opportunity he knew he wanted since he was a college student trying to make it in hockey.
That opportunity came from the Islanders, from owner Charles Wang, who took a monumental risk by hiring the untested, unproven, inexperienced Snow to lead the once-proud franchise.
"It was a situation where I got a call out of the blue and this journey began," Snow said.
The journey has had more downs than ups with several ego-busting bruises along the way. But Snow, like the Islanders, is still standing and optimistically hoping for a much brighter future ahead.
Snow talked about his meteoric rise to the GM's chair and the challenges he has met along the way with NHL.com.
Here are Five Questions With…Garth Snow:
Take us back to July 18, 2006 -- you retire after 12 seasons in the NHL to be named the general manager of the New York Islanders. Looking back now, what do you recall thinking, feeling? What were your emotions like that day?
"You're catching me off guard here. For me it was obviously something that I pursued as the [2005-06] hockey season closed. I went through the interview process and didn't really give it much thought after I was passed over. I really focused on my rehab from hip surgery that I had and getting at a point where I could do my conditioning off the ice to get ready for the next season.
"When that day happened it was obviously excitement, a little bit of, I don't want to say sadness, but you look back on your career and it's over. You've been playing competitively since you were a mite. This was a new journey for me and exciting in that regard. It was something that I envisioned in the back of my mind that if things didn't work out for me as a hockey player I would get into coaching or management.
"For that to come to fruition and to get an opportunity, quite frankly, that people don't usually get, I just appreciated the opportunity and I appreciated the confidence that was put in me. I was excited to pursue a new avenue in my life.
"I leaned on the people that had been in place here for decades. Whether it was Joanne Holewa, who has been here since Bill Torrey was the general manager, or Art McCarthy, who has been in the organization for 30 years, there was an infrastructure here for me to lean on -- Kenny Morrow in the scouting department, too. I wasn't thrown into the fire without a support group. And, to be able to work on the business side with some very talented people and a great owner in Charles Wang, it's been a great experience."
You mentioned that if being a hockey player didn't work out that you would have sought a career in coaching or management. Well, being a hockey player did work out and yet you still sought a career in management. At what point during your playing career did you start thinking about working in management?
"You know what, when I was at the University of Maine, I walked on there, was the third goalie for the first two years, redshirted my second year, and at that point I was working toward A) getting my Bachelor's degree and B) trying to get playing time. The degree was very important for me to have something to fall back on if hockey didn't work out. At that point in time, when I was going through that adversity, I had the mindset that if hockey didn't materialize as a career I would pursue coaching or management, being an athletic director, something to stay in the game of hockey. At that point in my life, college in the late '80s, that is when I started giving serious thought to making sure I had a career if hockey didn't materialize.
"When I signed my first contract with the Nordiques, I played in Cornwall, the AHL affiliate, and for me I knew I didn't want to spend a career in the AHL so I had always taken summer classes at school to stay ahead academically. I ended up getting enough credits to graduate a little earlier than my senior year of college and started taking Master's courses and went back after I signed a contract to finish my Master's degree. I knew I needed a Master's degree to get into coaching or take on a role at a university in that regard. Now I'm extremely lucky to have been given this opportunity in the NHL."
What has kept you going and kept you motivated through these last several seasons of working through a massive rebuild coupled with antiquated facilities that have rendered it nearly impossible to lure a big name free agent to Long Island and the uncertainty about where this franchise would be after 2015?
"I work for a terrific owner and it's a situation where this organization is like a family and you see it trickle down right to the players. John Tavares signs a six-year extension. Michael Grabner we claim off waivers, he scores 34 goals and signs a five-year extension to stay here. People that are part of this organization realize it is a special work and play environment for a team that obviously has some challenges regarding the building.
"The one word you said that was key was the uncertainty of where we would be when the lease [at Nassau Coliseum] expired, and thankfully something worked out to where we are going to stay in the area, 25 miles down the road. I didn't have any ill-will for any free agent when I spoke with their agent on July 1. How do you sell a free agent to sign for five to seven years on Long Island when we don't even know where we're going to be? That dynamic has changed for the better."
That leads me right into my next question, which is about the pending move to Brooklyn and the new relationship with the Nets at Barclays Center starting with the 2015-16 season. Do you have to change your philosophy as the GM to prepare the team for this move so it can be a successful transition both off the ice and on it, or does everything for you stay exactly the same as it has been?
"I think for us the best decision we made as an organization is to go through the rebuild that we've been through. It's obviously painful at times to go through the adversity that we've been through on the ice and that's a byproduct of going with younger players and developing from within. For us our philosophy will remain the same, build from within, through the draft, develop those players, and add free agents or any trade that can make our team better we will pursue it.
"The certainty of where we're going to be for the next 27 years will help us in attracting free agents who otherwise wouldn't have considered the Islanders. If I am going to sign a long contact I want to know where I'm going to be for the next several years."
Let's move in a different direction for the fifth question: You went straight from the crease to the GM's chair, but you still have your goalie roots and I'm curious if you have ever taken the opportunity to get on the ice to work with the current Islanders' goalies?
"It's funny you say that. During the lockout here I've gone on the ice with some youth hockey goalies and done some clinics. For me it's always fun working with kids and sharing knowledge that I've been fortunate enough to be exposed to over my own career. For me it's been fun to work with the kids.
"But, we have Mike Dunham and Steve Valiquette as part of our organization so I think the goalie instruction is covered and it's in good hands with those two guys. For me, the extent of working with a goalie is grabbing a coffee before or after practice, going down to the lounge and just talking about certain rushes, certain scenarios, certain saves, a technique -- goalie talk is what I like to call it. I know as a player when either a coach or former goalie would talk to me about the position it was always something that I found as a positive, so if there are experiences that I can share from my career I certainly relay it to our goalies. However, with how much the position has advanced over the years I end up learning more from them.
"Those conversations are not limited to the goalies. A forward may ask me, 'When you played what was the toughest save you had to make and where should I shoot from this part of the ice?' It could be a defenseman talking about a 2-on-1 rush, whether he should lie flat and if that makes life easier for the goalie.
"Those conversations are therapeutic for me, too. I learn things that I wish I learned 20 years ago -- and 40 pounds ago."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl