As the July 1 unrestricted free-agency date looms, little whispers and wild rumours are swirling
Jim Matheson, The Edmonton Journal
Published: Sunday, June 10, 2007
EDMONTON - Ryan Smyth swears he did a double-take when the New York Islanders gave Alexei Yashin a $17.6-million going-away present a few days ago, although finally buying out the Islanders captain was the only way they could save some loot to try and entice Smyth into staying before he hits the free-agent marketplace on July 1.
"I was shocked actually... I know Yashin and Mr. (owner Charles) Wang are pretty tight. Caught me off-guard," said Smyth, who would be getting the C on his jersey if he wants to return to Long Island, so tickled were they by his leadership in the six weeks he was there last season. Smyth has always wanted to be an NHL captain, so it's obviously an enticement, but it's still a long shot that he'll sign again there. He may be a Western boy at heart.
"Being a captain? Yeah, that would be nice. But I just want to win," said Smyth, who says he doesn't know where talks are with the Islanders, who are also trying to keep heart-and-soul centre Jason Blake before he hits the open market.
The clock is ticking on them and they gave away three young players (Robert Nilsson, Ryan O'Marra and a first-round draft pick) to get him at the trade deadline, so they figure to overpay to keep the winger, who turned down a $27-million, five-year deal from the Oilers. They also know Smyth's agent Don Meehan will be flooded with calls in three weeks, with Colorado, Detroit, Toronto and the New York Rangers probably at the top of the list.
It's unlikely Smyth will end up back here; that door may have closed on Feb. 27 when Smyth didn't take their pitch. There have been wild rumours flying around of potential six- and seven-year deals because of Wang's history of off-the-wall contracts (Yashin's $87.5-million, 10- year contract and Rick DiPietro's current 15-year arrangement), but Smyth will let Meehan do his bidding.
The only sure thing is that there's money on Long Island now that Yashin's gone. They were on the hook for $26.45 million over the next four years before buying him out at two-thirds. They will pay him the $17.6 million over eight years, with $2.2 million yearly on their books as part of their salary cap.
Yashin will be free to go elsewhere, probably for a lowball offer, although his rep as a talented but underachieving centre will always follow him. He was a total non-factor for the Isles against the Sabres in Round 1 of the playoffs. That said, if he was a No. 2 centre somewhere (Rangers?) at $2 million, he might be worth it.
"Maybe he was playing a little bit injured (during the playoffs)," said Smyth. "Players of his calibre, there's expectations to shine. But he's really skilled."
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