By Daniel Friedman
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Ever since his very first day on the job, Islanders' general manager Garth Snow has been a topic of conversation.
At times, we've spoken positively and other times we've lashed out with harsh criticism. This season, it's been all good things, and we may even have more praise for him by the time all is said and done.
The oft-beleaguered executive pulled off another outstanding accomplishment on Thursday when he re-signed star defenseman Johnny Boychuk to a seven-year, $42 million contract extension. Boychuk was expected to be the most coveted players regardless of position on the free agency market come July 1, and the Islanders got him.
When's the last time that happened?
Of course, the Boychuk deal came just a few weeks after the Isles reached a seven-year accord with Nick Leddy, who was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.
So to summarize, the Islanders now have a top defense pairing under contract into the next decade. That's a tremendous achievement by Snow, and if there were any doubts whether or not he should be a shoo-in for GM of the Year, the Boychuk deal should erase them.
Yet despite a run of incredible front office work that dates to last spring, there are still those who question Snow, who say that he "lucked out" being able to acquire Leddy and Boychuk in the first place. Before I continue with my analysis of the latter's new contract extension, I'd like to address this topic head-on.
Yes, there were extenuating circumstances in Chicago and Boston that allowed both players to become available at the prices they ultimately went for. Yes, Snow took advantage of those circumstances – as any good GM would. No, he was not the only one looking for a defenseman (or two), nor was his team the only one that had cap space.
There were other GMs that could've brought in at least one of those defensemen, but the fact remains none of them did – except for Snow. You didn't think the Isles were the only franchise interested in acquiring Boychuk and/or Leddy, did you?
He had a major roster hole to fill, and he got it done. He deserves all the credit in the world. It's as simple as that.
Shifting our focus back to Thursday afternoon's events, in hindsight it was obvious that Boychuk was going to re-sign. I say that because every time you'd ask him about it in the locker room, he'd smile and laugh, then say something like "I can't tell you" or "hopefully." He had this look on his face that essentially said "I know something really good and I'm keeping it from you because it's not the right time yet."
There were other signs, too. The camaraderie he developed with the other players in that locker room, the fact that he went all-in as far as building a connection with the fans (wearing the "Yes! Yes! Yes!" T-shirt). For heaven's sake, he even wore a fisherman hat during a postgame interview. What more proof did you need?
You just got this prevailing sense that he was going to be back. And, fortunately for the Islanders, that's exactly what transpired.
I don't think I really need to point out the benefits of keeping No. 55 in the lineup for the foreseeable future. The only thing I'll add is that, in addition to what he brings to the table, the signing makes the Islanders' defense that much deeper when you consider that Griffin Reinhart and Ryan Pulock (someone who I think could fit in the same mold as a Boychuk with his booming shot and the potential to be more physical as he bulks up) are on the way.
Having Boychuk back in the fold could even mean that the Islanders deem one of their younger defensemen (perhaps Reinhart or Calvin de Haan) expendable and trade for a scoring winger at the draft. That's just my theory on a possible upcoming transaction. It's not based on anything I've heard.
Ultimately, everything circles back to Snow. To his credit, he has bounced back tremendously from what had been a disastrous 2013-14 season both for him and the organization.
Legitimate starting goaltender? Check. Defensive depth? Check. Young talent? Check. Ability to roll four lines? Check. Reliable backup goalie? He tried this summer and then rectified what didn't work out by getting Michal Neuvirth at the deadline. So, check.
Another scoring winger? Now we're nitpicking, but there's plenty of time to get that, too. The best part is, the Islanders' window is just starting to open. They're still very young.
This is a team that's going to compete for several years. Obviously, it would be reasonable to expect the Isles to at least win a playoff round this season, but no matter what happens, it won't be long before they're winning multiple rounds. It might not even be that long before they're competing for the Stanley Cup.
After a long rebuild, after a failed real estate project and referendum to keep the team on Long Island, after all of the budget constraints and questions surrounding ownership, after all of the free agents and players who refused to sign or be traded here, and after all this team has been through, the Islanders have arrived.
Snow weathered the storm, so to speak, remained patient through all of those twists and turns and, as a result, was able to put together a winning hockey team.
He's not just the GM of the Year, he's the GM Islander fans have been waiting for since Bill Torrey stepped down in 1992.
And as The Carpenters say, "we've only just begun."
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