- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 20, 2006

Why, flummoxed hockeyphiles are wondering this week, did the New York Islanders hire their backup goaltender to be general manager?

The answer, it seems, is obvious: Because the Zamboni driver wanted too much money.

Neil Smith out, Garth Snow in — less than six weeks after Smith became the GM himself. The NHL has always been an ADD league, trades and firings coming as frequently as line shifts, but this is ridiculous. Not just Smith’s exit, blamed on “philosophical differences” with owner Charles Wang, but Snow’s entrance.

Fearless prediction: By the end of the week, there’ll be a sign on his desk that says, “The puck stops here.”

Of course, if the puck had stopped here more often when Snow was between the pipes, the Islanders wouldn’t be in the position they’re in — out of the playoffs and looking silly.

The East Coast might be sweating out a heat wave, but in the NHL these days the forecast is for Snow — Garth Snow, the erstwhile netminder, in New York, and Chris Snow, the erstwhile sportswriter, in Minnesota. Not long before the Islanders tapped Garth, the Wild announced that Chris, who has been covering the Red Sox for the Boston Globe (after chronicling the Wild’s adventures for the Minneapolis Star Tribune), would be joining the club as director of hockey operations.

Now we know the real reason the Sox got rid of J.T. Snow: Theo Epstein was feeling threatened.

So the Islanders have a new GM with no previous experience, and the Wild has a new director of hockey ops who’s equally callow — and is 24 years old to boot. I can hardly wait for the league’s next brainstorm. Maybe the Board of Governors will replace Gary Bettman with Emilio Estevez.

Some would call it a typical Islanders move. This is the team, after all, that was once bought with a rubber check (by John Spano, later imprisoned for wire and bank fraud). The Isles haven’t gotten past the first round of the playoffs since 1993, and now their fans are praying Snow doesn’t turn into Hail or Sleet — or worse, Isiah Thomas.

The New York Times joked that “one of his first orders of business may be to find a goaltender to replace himself.” If I were Snow, though, I’d be hesitant to quit my day job. Besides, who has more time to run a hockey club than a No. 2 goalie? Not a whole lot of heavy lifting there. While Rick DiPietro is fending off slap shots next season, Snow could be sitting on the bench with his laptop, perusing the waiver wire or doing live online chats with season ticket holders. I mean, if Mario Lemieux can be a player-owner, why can’t Garth Snow be a player-GM?

You have to give Wang at least a little credit for thinking outside the penalty box. Turns out he interviewed Snow for the position in the spring before settling on Smith, who had assembled the Rangers’ ‘94 championship team. The 36-year-old netminder “really impressed me with his passion and knowledge,” Wang said in a statement. “When the job opened up [again], the choice was an easy one. Garth knows the league as well as anyone.”

Then again, the entire NHL is thinking outside the penalty box, trying to figure out a way to return to profitability. Losing an entire season to labor strife — and being exiled to OLN — has made every owner more receptive to new ideas (e.g. reducing ticket prices, settling games with shootouts). Turning a goaltender into a general manager and a sportswriter into a director of hockey ops are merely the two latest bolts of inspiration.

Just last month, you may recall, the Capitals had Alex Ovechkin announcing their draft picks in Vancouver. Perhaps Ted Leonsis sees him as future front office material.

Clearly, it’s a whole new world in hockey. For decades it was virtually resistant to change, but now it’s a laboratory with all kinds of experiments going, all kinds of beakers bubbling — the salary cap, liberalized free agency, tighter (and more consistent) rule enforcement, a slew of measures designed to open up the game.

There’s an atmosphere of “anything goes” — both on and off the ice. And so you have Ovechkin scoring a goal while lying on his back and teams allowing Garth Snow and Chris Snow into their inner sanctums. Here’s hoping things don’t go abominably for these Snow men. Risk-taking on such a scale deserves to be rewarded.

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