Michael Russo's Sunday NHL Insider: Snow is alone on the Island

  • Updated: March 8, 2014 - 4:05 PM

Garth Snow miscalculated when he acquired Thomas Vanek, and then again when it was time to get rid of him.

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Thomas Vanek, battling Blue captain David Backes in December, had intended all along to test free agency, yet the Islanders acquired him believing they could persuade him to sign a long-term deal.

Photo: JEFF ROBERSON • Associated Press,

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Poor Garth Snow.

Even before the Islanders GM fell short of expectations Wednesday with his trade of Thomas Vanek, Snow was getting slammed on the public airwaves, from the pundits on Canada’s TSN to the fans on Twitter.

And the fans on Twitter always know best (#sarcasm).

But the reality is Snow’s heart had to be thumping pretty good as the 2 p.m. deadline approached and Vanek was still an Islander. Snow finally had to settle for trading Vanek, whom he acquired in October from Buffalo for fellow pending free agent Matt Moulson, a conditional first-round pick and a second, to the Montreal Canadiens for what can best be described by scouts I’ve talked to as a mid-range prospect and … maybe a second-round pick.

If the Canadiens crumble and miss the playoffs, the Islanders will have thrown away Moulson, a first-rounder, a second-rounder and Vanek for Sebastian Collberg, an undersized forward who is no sure thing.

The draft pick will go out the window.

Now, I was one of the few who gave Snow the benefit of doubt when he acquired Vanek. I defended him, saying he was trying to swing for the fences and help the Islanders make the playoffs, and he knows the Islanders’ reserve list better than anyone.

It’s kind of like last year’s Jason Pominville trade by the Wild. If you just see Matt Hackett, Johan Larsson and a first-rounder for Pominville scrolling across a ticker with no understanding of the Wild’s depth chart and prospect pool, you think, “What was Chuck Fletcher thinking?”

But where Snow went wrong is he misjudged Vanek’s obvious intention to become a free agent. Snow told HockeyCentral this week that he figured once he got Vanek around the Islanders, “he’d think differently about re-signing.”

After all, who in their right mind wouldn’t want to skate alongside John Tavares for the rest of his career?

But if Snow really felt that, he didn’t do his due diligence. It’s been widely assumed (known) for months that Vanek plans to test free agency. There are only so many opportunities in a professional athlete’s career where he control his own fate, and this is regardless of the fact that many in hockey assume Vanek wants to sign with Minnesota, where he lives and trains in the offseason.

So Snow traded Moulson, a three-time 30-goal scorer and Tavares’ best friend who wanted to stay on Long Island, for Vanek, who had one foot out the door.

The moment Vanek rejected a reported seven-year, $50 million contract last month, Snow needed to trade Vanek.

The problem is then Snow miscalculated the market. Besides Vanek, scorers available included Moulson, Marian Gaborik, Ales Hemsky and Mike Cammalleri. Then big names Martin St. Louis and Ryan Kesler hit the market, complicating things even further.

The Rangers were the only team to trade a first-round pick Wednesday. Nobody else did. Other GMs realized this was a different year, especially when it took so long Wednesday for the dominoes to fall.

Prices dropped. When Ottawa chose Hemsky, Los Angeles chose Gaborik and the Wild chose Moulson, Snow was in trouble. Other teams — Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Anaheim — were going hard after Vancouver’s Kesler, who wound up not traded.

But Snow was so intent on recouping some of the assets he gave up for Vanek, he kept stubbornly insisting on a first-round pick and prospect from teams.

Snow held his cards way too long. Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin had Snow exactly where he wanted — the clock anxiously ticking toward 2. Snow had no choice but to trade Vanek for anything at that point.

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  • In this Dec. 5, 2013, photo, New York Islanders' Thomas Vanek, of Austria, looks to pass as St. Louis Blues' David Backes defends during an NHL hockey game in St. Louis. The Montreal Canadiens have acquired Vanek from the Islanders. Montreal sent forward prospect Sebastien Collberg, a 2014 second-round pick and a conditional fifth-rounder to the Islanders for Vanek on Wednesday, March 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

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