Goalie Snow to replace Smith as Islanders' GM

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Neil Smith didn't last a summer, let alone a winter, as general manager of the New York Islanders.

Hired less than six weeks ago as part of a front office by committee, Smith failed to live up to owner Charles Wang's terms and was let go Tuesday before he had a chance to put his new team on the ice.

Smith was abruptly fired and replaced by New York goalie Garth Snow, who retired to take over the position.

"This is a decision made by me," Wang told reporters in the Islanders' otherwise empty locker room. "I'll take the blame and I'll take the credit. This is something that I feel very strongly about. I was clear. I said this is what we're going to, here's how we're going to run it."

Smith was something of a surprise choice when he returned to the NHL after a six-year absence and replaced Mike Milbury on June 8. Smith's replacement was even more of a shock.

Snow, who will be officially introduced at a luncheon Wednesday, joins an overhauled organization that includes new coach Ted Nolan, player development director Bryan Trottier, chief amateur scout Tony Feltrin and pro scouting director Ken Morrow. Pat LaFontaine was brought in as a senior adviser, but late Tuesday reports surfaced that he is giving up his new post.

Wang set it up so each person would report directly to him. Every member of the front-office team has a role.

Smith wasn't used to that kind of setup, even though Wang said he was very clear about it up front. One point of contention was the hiring of an equipment manager. As GM, Smith thought that was his job. Wang decided all matters involving the team would be decided by Nolan.

"I knew it would get worse because when you know it's wrong, it doesn't work," Wang said. "You feel it and you've got to correct it."

A self-proclaimed non-hockey guy, Wang hired someone with zero experience in the business end of the sport. Snow will have to learn on the job and learn about the cap, which his playing contract will count against for each of the next two seasons. Snow was due to earn $750,000 per year.

What was as surprising is that Snow was an original finalist.

"I knew what he could do; I was comfortable with him in the past," said Wang, who has grown close to Snow since the goalie signed with the Islanders in 2001. "If I hadn't chosen Neil, he was one of the prime last candidates. It was an easy choice."

The Islanders missed the playoffs last season, finishing next-to-last in the Atlantic Division.

Snow, who went 4-13-1 last season as the backup to Rick DiPietro, will be in charge of making trades, scouting and contracts.

DiPietro is a key player who doesn't yet have a deal for next season. Snow will also have to search for his replacement as the backup.

"This is a proud moment for me, a dream come true," said Snow, who played 12 NHL seasons, the final four with the Islanders. "It's an opportunity I wanted more than anything."

Smith, Nolan and LaFontaine were hired on the same day. The GM and coach came in as a package deal, and Smith didn't have a say in Nolan's hiring.

"I picked Teddy before I picked Neil. I made all those decisions myself; one of them I got wrong," Wang said. "Rather than to try not to do anything ... I am going to fix it, and I don't want this to linger in any way. The last thing I want to do is have any unrest or any controversy in the middle of the season.
It would be a disaster."

A message left on Smith's cell phone wasn't immediately returned.

Snow, about a week shy of his 37th birthday, is the fifth GM in team history. He was 135-147-44 with a 2.80 GAA and .901 save percentage in 368 NHL games. His career also included stints with Quebec, Philadelphia, Vancouver and Pittsburgh.

Smith's greatest NHL success came when he was in charge of the rival New York Rangers. As their GM, he built the team that ended 54 years of frustration and finally won a Stanley Cup title in 1994. He was fired late in the 1999-00 season -- 10 years after he took the job -- as the Rangers headed toward their third straight non-playoff finish.

His roots were with the Islanders, who drafted him as a player 32 years ago, but he was let go again before he had a chance to rebuild the once-proud franchise. The Islanders haven't won a postseason series since 1993.

Smith's dismissal came as the free-agent shopping season wound down and teams prepared for salary arbitration hearings that begin at the end of the week. Forwards Arron Asham and Mike York were the only Islanders to file for arbitration.

Although Smith held the job for less than six weeks, he was active. New York has only a handful of players without contracts for next season, including Asham and York, and has added several veteran free agents.

The Islanders signed Mike Sillinger to a three-year deal after he came off a 31-goal season; hard-hitting defenseman Brendan Witt, who also agreed to a three-year contract; offensive-minded defenseman Tom Poti; and forwards Chris Simon and Andy Hilbert.

None of them will play for the man who brought them to Long Island.

"I don't think you can say in any way this is chaos or anything," Wang said. "Look at the people we signed, look at the drafting. I'm proud of what we've done."

Smith was chosen by the Islanders in the 13th round of the 1974 draft but never made it to the NHL. He later served as a scout and was part of the organization during its run to four straight Stanley Cup titles in the early 1980s.

The Islanders' regime change started in January, when Milbury announced he would step down from the position he held since 1995. He is now in charge of Wang's sports properties.