One of the conditions Lou Lamoriello had for joining the New York Islanders as President of Hockey Operations was having full autonomy to shape the organization to meet his specifications. With that in mind, Lamoriello opted to not move forward with Garth Snow and Doug Weight as general manager and head coach, relieving them of their current duties, although they will remain in the organization in other capacities.
“The New York Islanders would like to thank both Garth and Doug for their dedication to the franchise,” Lamoriello said in a press release issued by the club. “Both started their tenures with the franchise as players and grew as tremendous leaders to the positions they held.”
Until his dismissal, Snow was the fourth-longest tenured GM in the National Hockey League, taking over the helm from Neil Smith after retiring as the backup goaltender in the summer of 2006. Snow initially stabilized the front office following Mike Milbury’s decade-long tenure, employing a strategy of patiently developing players internally.
Examples of their commitment to youth in that span were John Tavares and Mathew Barzal, who quickly blossomed into stars along with the efforts from complementary players such as Anders Lee and Josh Bailey. Unfortunately, the inability to maintain consistent play limited the club’s overall potential and led to increased criticism of Snow after they qualified for the playoffs in just four of his 12 seasons as GM.
Before the 2008-09 season, Snow signed Weight as a free agent to provide veteran leadership and mentor the younger players on the Isles’ roster, two years after guiding the Carolina Hurricanes to a Stanley Cup title. Weight spent the final three seasons of his playing career with the Islanders and later transitioned to the bench as an associate head coach for Jack Capuano during the 2011-12 season.
Familiarity with the current roster helped Weight build trust with his players and prepared him to eventually take over as head coach when the Isles dismissed Capuano in January 2017. Subtle changes in the system and philosophy benefitted Weight, who guided the Islanders to a 24-12-4 mark, one point shy of a playoff berth. Despite a strong start to the 2017-18 season, the Isles struggled mightily defensively and could not recapture their early success, finishing 35-37-10, just three points ahead of the Rangers for last place in the Metropolitan Division.
As Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin assumed control of the franchise in recent years, their goal was to build a world-class organization that can compete at the highest level both on and off the ice. Placing complete trust in Lamoriello to run the hockey operations and make swift decisions adds to the plan and enables them enough time to prepare for the upcoming and draft and free agency, where the top priority is retaining the services of Tavares when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
As Lamoriello plans to find the team’s next head coach, he may choose to hire an individual who specializes in two-way hockey after their defensive unit allowed a league-worst 296 goals last season. During his tenure in New Jersey, Lamoriello strongly emphasized the importance of defensive-minded hockey and found success with head coach Jaques Lemaire in employing the neutral zone trap behind defenseman Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Brian Rafalski, and Ken Daneyko
The Islanders hold the 12th and 13th selections in the upcoming NHL Draft and could use the picks to bolster the unit. Up front, the Isles signed Bailey to a six-year contract following the trade deadline and have Lee and Jordan Eberle entering the final year of their contracts after both enjoyed strong seasons on separate lines.
Lamoriello’s arrival signals a dedication to creating a hockey culture based on prestige and quality. Few individuals can change the perception of a franchise like Lamoriello and alter its image. As demonstrated with the unexpected success of Vegas Golden Knights during their run to the Stanley Cup Final, change can occur at an instant in today’s NHL.
If a team has the right personnel in place and the trust in the culture, then its results improve both in the immediate and distant future. The Islanders and Lamoriello look to establish those principles with the changes made at the head coach and general manager roles and attempt to recapture their past glory in the years to come.