Smyth Trade Adds To Playoff Push For Islanders
By Brian Bohl
UNIONDALE, NY- It was a different feeling for Garth Snow this time last season. He was still the Islanders backup goalie. He was still just another player who watched popular veterans like Mark Parrish leave the organization in a trade deadline deal that signified management's decision to give up on a possible playoff run.
Snow traded in his pads and helmet for a suit and tie this summer when he took over as general manager, replacing Neil Smith after he took the job just 40 days earlier. At 37, Snow is the league's youngest general manager, though he has worked quickly to earn the confidence of owner Charles Wang.
But on a day when NHL clubs tied a record for most deals completed at the deadline - 25 trades involving 44 players- Snow did not let his inexperience prevent him from participating in the swap meet.
The Islanders' front-office showed their faith in the team's ability to make a deep playoff run. First, they kept their leading scorer and impending free agent Jason Blake; refusing to trade him to a Western Conference power. Next, they then added All-Star forward Ryan Smyth, acquiring the 30-goal scorer from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for 2003 first-round choice Robert Nilsson, 2005 first-round choice Ryan O'Marra and the Islanders' 2007 first-round draft pick.
It was a steep price to pay for player for who can test the free agent market starting July 1. It is believed the winger will be asking for a five-year deal worth around $25 million. Blake also wants a multiyear extension. While the Islanders are roughly five million dollars under the salary cap, there is likely only space to sign one of the two players, though Snow said the move was made strictly for the present. "When you get a special player like Ryan, you've got to give up something to get something," Snow said. "Thankfully, we have an owner who will put his resources into creating a championship-caliber team. I think Long Island will be proud."
With 70 points, the Islanders currently are tied with Montreal for seventh-place in the Eastern Conference. They hold the advantage by playing two fewer games thus far, and also trail Atlanta by just two points for the sixth spot.
Captain Alexei Yashin is expected back in the lineup soon, while Blake recorded his first career 30-goal season after he netted a hat trick in a 6-5 overtime victory against the Flyers yesterday. Add Smyth into that mix, and coach Ted Nolan could potentially construct a Smyth-Yashin-Blake first line that would feature a current or former All-Star at all three spots. It could also prime the Islanders for their first playoff series victory since 1993.
"When Garth called me at a quarter to three and told me it was done, I thought he was just pulling my leg," Nolan said. "We couldn't have hand-picked anybody better. He's everything you want in a hockey player: he gets the big goals for you."
Smyth will wear No. 94 and is expected to make his Islander debut at home against St. Louis tomorrow. The 31-year-old recorded 31 goals and 22 assists in 53 games for the Oilers this season, making it the second straight year he has scored more than 30 goals. The 6-1, 190-pound right-handed shot will bring his 265 career goals to a lineup to a lineup averaging just under three goals per game, which Snow said should improve considerably for the regular season's final 19 games and into the playoffs.
Smyth also experienced a deep post-season run last season, scoring seven goals in 24 games during Edmonton's run to the Stanley Cup Finals. He has 22 goals in 68 career playoff appearances during his 10 full NHL seasons, and many of new teammates said the move was a surprise.
"We all know he's a great player and whenever you can add a player like that the deadline, it's a big boost," winger Trent Hunter said. "I was actually sleeping when the first text message came through. When I did wake up and looked on my phone, I went on the internet to c heck it out. It's very exciting."
Snow added another forward the day before, bringing in Richard Zednik from Washington. Last week, defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron and his 103 mile-per-hour slap shot was also obtained from the Oilers, giving the Islanders three players who will see substantial ice time barring any injuries.
After the Flyers game, many veteran Islanders said Snow's aggressiveness was a vote of confidence in the team's ability to contend immediately. It also prompted goalie Rick DiPietro to say the entire afternoon felt like a holiday.
"He scores goals. He does everything," DiPietro said about the Smyth addition. "Everyone's extremely pumped out and getting into the locker room. We really didn't know. He was kept out of most of the trade talks.
"Teddy said it earlier in the week, it's like Christmas Eve, the trade deadline comes every year. We got three really nice presents, so we're excited."
Perhaps the fourth big move was holding on to Blake, who was rumored to possible be on his way to Anaheim or another contender out west. The 3:00 p.m. trade deadline came and went without a deal, which Blake said was a relief.
"The last two and a half weeks have been tough, but I'm not making excuses," Blake said. "I never knew and that kind of weighed on my mind. It's a big sigh of relief. I did not want to get traded."