Free Agency Hits Isles Hard

The 2007 NHL free agent signing period was not even 12 hours old and already the New York Islanders had suffered heavy losses. The more significant was winger Ryan Smyth, the man the Isles wanted to build their team around. In addition, the Islanders lost leading scorer, Jason Blake, forwards Richard Zednik and Viktor Kozlov and defenseman Tom Poti who each signed with other teams.

The loss of Smyth was announced just after 11:00 PM ET on Sunday. Smyth signed a five-year contract worth $31.25 million with the Avalanche. It was a big blow to the Islanders who were hoping Smyth would be their new captain and was the player they wanted as the cornerstone of their franchise. According to a report in Newsday, the Islanders offered Smyth $32.5 million over five years but Smyth signed with Colorado anyway.

A disappointed Garth Snow said, “We were right in it for Ryan’s services until the very end and it was one of the hardest decisions he’d ever been a part of. Ryan decided it was best for him and his family to sign with Colorado. The Avalanche are very fortunate to have him and we wish Ryan and his family the best. I said when I made the trade to acquire Ryan from Edmonton that it’s a deal I’d do over and over again. My feelings on the move to bring Ryan Smyth to Long Island have not changed.”

Smyth cost the Islanders dearly as they traded two former first round draft choices and the team’s first pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.

While Smyth was the big fish that got away, the Isles also lost four other players on the first day of free agency. Jason Blake signed a five-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Blake led the Islanders with 40 goals and 69 points last season.

In a statement released by the Islanders, Snow announced, “This organization has nothing but the utmost pride in Blakey and a deep appreciation for the player he became on Long Island. Except for when he’s battling against us, we wish the best to Jason, Sara and their children.”

In addition to their leading goal scorer, the Isles lost their top assist getter when defenseman Tom Poti signed with the Washington Capitals. Poti also led the Islanders in average time on ice. Poti’s deal was for $3.5 million per year for a four-year contract. The Isles wanted Poti back at a lesser price but the recent signings of defensemen like Craig Rivet and Sean O’Donnell helped drive up the price for free agent defensemen and made it almost impossible for the Isles to retain Poti’s services at a price they were willing to pay.

Forwards Richard Zednik and Viktor Kozlov also left as free agents with Zednik heading to Florida and Kozlov signing with the Washington Capitals. While neither player was likely in the Isles’ long term plans, the team does have a lot of goal scoring to replace before the start of the season. Of the Isles’ top six forwards from last year, only Mike Sillinger and Miro Satan remain on the present roster.

The Isles did announce one addition as they signed 30-year-old forward Jonathan Sim to a three-year contract. According to published reports, the contract was worth a total of $3 million. Sim played for Atlanta last year, scoring 17 goals and 12 assists for the Thrashers in 77 games.

“Jon Sim is an aggressive, hard-working veteran forward with good offensive skills who fits in perfectly with Ted Nolan’s system,” Islanders’ general manager Garth Snow said in a statement. “We’re extremely pleased Jon chose to become an Islander.”

Snow remains in the hunt for big name free agent talent and the off season is far from over. There will certainly be more significant additions to the team before the start of training camp. While headlines are usually made in the first few days of free agency, important signings that make a big difference during the season often come later. Still, the first day of free agency has to be described as a major disappointment for the New York Islanders.

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