For the first time, Charles Wang admitted that general manager Garth Snow’s hands were tied for many years when it came to trying to lure high-priced free agents. In his final interview as majority owner, Wang praised his GM for doing well despite the challenges.
“Don’t forget the constraints he was working under,” Wang told Newsday on Wednesday from the team’s practice facility at Eisenhower Park. “We weren’t a big team. It’s not like we were in Brooklyn, where we could get more revenue. But it’s worth it, every minute of it. He’s a hell of a general manager.”
Jonathan Ledecky and Scott Malkin take over control of the team Friday. Wang will retain a 15 percent stake.
As for Snow, who was busy preparing for Friday’s free-agency period and declined to comment, Wang recalled the decision to hire him in the summer of 2006 after a 42-day stint by former Rangers general manager Neil Smith, who clashed with Wang.
“My problem is I stick with things too long sometimes,” Wang said. “I went with another general manager but I picked Garth first. And at the last minute, I chickened out. Because everybody was hounding me — this guy, that guy, he has this experience.
“But I thought, they’re all part of the same club. They just rotate around the league, it seems. I wanted another way of thinking. And I thought, ‘Who would know the game up close?’
“He saw the game as a player. And I love the man. That’s the guy. But at the last minute, I thought if I bring him in, a backup goalie as my general manager, I’m going to get laughed out of town. I can’t do it.”
After Smith and Pat LaFontaine, who was a senior adviser to Wang, came and went, Wang ended up back with Snow, who has had full autonomy on hockey decisions and is entering his 11th season running the club.
Wang had a hand in the 15-year contract for goaltender Rick DiPietro, as he did in the 10-year contract given to center Alexei Yashin a few years earlier.
Wang also reflected on his first days as owner with Mike Milbury, the general manager he inherited. Asked about his strongest memory of his ownership days, Wang didn’t hesitate.
“Sure,” he said. “It was when Milbury looked at me when I asked him, ‘What do you guys do at halftime?’ I’d gone to two hockey games in my life, never made it past the second period. I didn’t have any idea. I remember that so vividly.
“And Mike taught me so much. He took me through it all and my kids played the sport. And the lifelong friends I’ve made because of this game — Mike and I still have lunch every so often. Alexei Yashin is here with me tonight. Lifelong friends, because of hockey. That you can’t replace.”