Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A billboard clipping for Garth Snow

It’s not often that the terms fleeced and New York Islanders doing the fleecing, get mentioned in the same story but the recent swap of players between the Islanders and Flyers, has one particular New York Newspaper making Snow out to be the second coming of Sam Pollock.

Snow engineered a trade of Alexei Zhitnik from the Island to Philly for the services of Freddy Myer, a move that is garnering a few pats on the back for the GM who last was feeling the heat over the rather rewarding terms that he brought his goaltender, Rick DiPietro under (rewarding for DiPetro at any rate).

But this one, well if Kevin Greenstein of the New York Sun is any indication will herald the day that Snow joined the big leagues of trade em, swap em in the NHL.

If nothing else, Greenstein has guaranteed himself some pretty good access to the Islanders GM, who when he tires of the snickering from the rest of the media, can at least look back at the Greenstein article as verification that he is a GM to be reckoned with. A statement that wouldn't have been associated with the Islanders replacement GM at the start of the season.

One suspects that if there are any "exclusives" coming out of Long Island, they most likely will be carrying a Greenstein byline for the next little while!

Islanders' GM Snow Fleeces Flyers With Latest TradeHockey
The New York Sun

December 19, 2006

When the news hit the wires that the New York Islanders had traded veteran defenseman Alexei Zhitnik to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for young blueliner Freddy Meyer, one could have been forgiven for questioning the sanity of both teams involved in the deal.

With 35 points in 31 games, the Isles are currently in ninth place in the Eastern Conference. But when one considers the fact that they have three games in hand on seventh place Toronto and eighth place Carolina, it's safe to say the Isles are a legitimate playoff contender. And so it would be reasonable to wonder why the Isles would deal Zhitnik — a valuable veteran with significant playoff experience — in exchange for an unproven youngster.

Meanwhile, the perennially powerful Flyers are sitting in dead last in the East, with only 20 points in 32 games. They appear to be in need of a serious rebuilding effort, and have precious little hope of reaching the playoffs, much less winning a round or two. So why would they give up on young Freddy Meyer, a promising 26-year-old puck-moving defenseman who compiled 27 points and a plus-10 rating in his first NHL season?

And after careful evaluation of the possible reasons behind the deal from each team's perspective, conclusion is that the deal makes a lot of sense for the Isles, but none for the Flyers. Put simply, the Flyers got fleeced.

First and foremost, the Isles cleared a significant amount of cap room, which should enable them to make a bigger deal later on this season. Zhitnik's salary for 2006–07 is $3.5 million, while Meyer costs only $525,000. Factoring in the games already played, the deal saves the Isles close to $2 million against the $44 million salary cap, giving them tremendous flexibility as the trade deadline approaches. A player with a $6 million salary counts for only $2 million against the cap if he's acquired for the season's final third, making the Zhitnik deal all the more compelling for the Isles should they decide to "go for it" this season.

Now, it's also possible that owner Charles Wang mandated that rookie GM Garth Snow cut costs. The Nassau Coliseum is littered with empty seats for virtually every Isles game, which without question hurts the bottom line. Making matters worse, although the NHL is reporting an overall rise in revenue, the Isles do not qualify for revenue sharing because they are based in a major metropolitan market.

But given Wang's approach thus far, there is little reason to expect him to take such a short view where his team is concerned. He likely realizes that Long Island's hockey fans will turn out in droves if the team starts winning on a consistent basis. Therefore, it's more likely than not that a big deal — one in which a top-flight player is brought in — is on the horizon for the Isles.
Another important reason behind the deal could be between the pipes. Isles goaltender Rick DiPietro knows Meyer well — the two have played together on and off since they were 13 years old, including two seasons with Boston University — and it's reasonable to expect that input on personnel decisions is a side benefit of DiPietro's 15-year contract.

"This is a trade that makes us younger and more mobile — that's why we did it," Snow told reporters before Saturday night's game. "We're very happy with the deal because, simply put, it makes us a better hockey team."

Meyer is out with a minor back injury, but should return to the lineup as soon as next week. Chris Campoli, another young blueliner, returned to the lineup for Saturday night's shutout of the Atlanta Thrashers, giving the Isles' defense a speed boost that should serve them well in the coming months.

Meanwhile, the party line in Philadelphia is that Zhitnik represents a significant upgrade on their blue line.

"Alexei is a very durable player," Flyers GM Paul Holmgren explained to the Philadelphia press. "He can play a lot of minutes. He has a wealth of experience. We think that he can really upgrade our defense."

But while Zhitnik does represent a short-term upgrade over Meyer, it is unlikely he will be the catalyst to springboard the Flyers back into playoff contention.

Instead, it's far more likely that the Flyers are putting on a strong front for their fans, making a legitimate effort to turn things around on the ice before what would seem to be an inevitable rebuilding effort. Veterans Peter Forsberg and Derian Hatcher are sure to be shopped as the trade deadline approaches, with the Flyers looking to add some much needed speed and youth to their lineup, and in particular on their blue line.

Now, this of course begs the question: Why give up on Meyer? An excellent skater with substantial offensive upside, he would appear to be the prototypical defenseman for the modern NHL. Looking ahead, if the Flyers fail to get back into the playoff hunt, Zhitnik (like Hatcher, due $3.5 million in each of the next two seasons) will turn out to be yet another aging cap albatross taking up valuable space on the Philadelphia blue line.

Garth Snow might be a rookie GM, but this deal demonstrated that he's learned a lot during his very short time on the job. Cap management is a tricky proposition, and with this deal, the Isles came out ahead from virtually every perspective. Should they realize down the road that they need a bit more experience on the blue line, acquiring a veteran blueliner at least the equal of Zhitnik — one who isn't owed $7 million over the next two seasons, no less — should be a fairly simple task as the deadline approaches.

A recent book release, Sheldon Kennedy's "Why I Didn't Say Anything," is a must-read for hockey-playing teenagers, and probably for all teenagers. Kennedy played eight seasons in the NHL, but is best known for the courageous stand he took in charging his former Canadian junior hockey coach Graham James with sexual assault. The book details Kennedy's hard road to redemption, and reading it gives teenagers an important weapon against future abuse. Without question, knowledge is power where this difficult topic is concerned.

Also noteworthy is a recent DVD release, "In the Crease." The film follows the California Wave Bantam AAA travel hockey team on their path to nationals. It presents the players' trials and tribulations in an honest, unique fashion, and is supplemented by input from some of the NHL's biggest stars, including the Devils' Scott Gomez and the Rangers' Brendan Shanahan.
Mr. Greenstein is the editor in chief of

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