Ryan Smyth inks deal with Avs

Ira Podell
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

NEW YORK ” “Captain Canada” Ryan Smyth has found a new home with the Colorado Avalanche.

Late in a frenzied first day of free-agent signing, Smyth ” the last remaining topflight forward ” left the New York Islanders on Sunday night for a return trip to the Western Conference.

Smyth agreed to a five-year deal worth $31.25 million with the Avalanche, who are looking to quickly rebuild a franchise that missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 1994 ” two years before the team relocated to Denver from Quebec.

“Ryan is a proven, top-tier athlete in the NHL who will be an outstanding fit with our club’s continued philosophy and goal of providing our fans with a dynamic and exciting product,” Avalanche general manager Francois Giguere said. “He’s a player that exemplifies grit, determination and courage and will be among the future leaders of this franchise.”

Islanders general manager Garth Snow, who made retaining Smyth his top priority, got the bad news that Smyth was leaving Long Island from the forward’s agent, Don Meehan.

“It was obviously not what we wanted to hear, but I appreciated the call,” Snow said. “Don 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.”

The Islanders acquired Smyth from the Edmonton Oilers just minutes before the NHL trade deadline in February. New York gave up two former first-round picks plus this year’s No. 1 selection to get him, but couldn’t make the big move stick by signing him to a long-term contract.

“Ryan decided it was best for him and his family to sign with Colorado,” Snow said. “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.”

The left winger has 270 goals in 788 regular-season games and 23 in 73 postseason contests. He reached 20 goals eight times and 30 on four occasions.

“At 31, we feel he can continue to play at a high level and make an impact in this league for years to come,” Giguere said.

Smyth’s departure capped a very tough day for the Islanders, who lost several key free agents _ including their top two scorers from last season.

All they had to show from a busy first day of free-agent negotiations was a deal with forward Jon Sim, who left the Atlanta Thrashers for a three-year, $3 million deal.

The Avalanche, however, made Smyth their second acquisition of the day after they inked former San Jose defenseman Scott Hannan to a four-year, $18 million contract. That marked the first time Colorado spoiled the Islanders plans Sunday.

“We had a few conversations with Hannan and made him an offer right on par with what he signed for,” Snow said. “Scott told us he was flattered by our interest and intrigued by the opportunity to play for (Islanders coach) Ted Nolan, but his first choice was to stay in the West. We weren’t surprised when he went to the Avalanche.”

Smyth also watched former Buffalo co-captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere leave the Presidents’ Trophy- winning Sabres earlier in the day for big deals with the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers, respectively, before making his move.

Scott Gomez also joined the Rangers on Sunday, leaving the New Jersey Devils for a seven-year deal worth $51.5 million.

Smyth was dealt to the Islanders by the Oilers in a stunning deal at the trade deadline. Known as “Captain Canada” for his experience with his home country’s national teams, the Alberta native was shipped out of Edmonton after spending his first 11-plus NHL seasons there.

He turned down a multiyear offer from the Oilers that would’ve paid him more than $5 million a season and was traded to the Islanders for former first-round picks Robert Nilsson and Ryan O’Marra. Edmonton took defenseman Alex Plante last weekend with the draft choice they got from New York.

Smyth’s departure capped a rough first free-agency opener for Snow, who retired as a player last July to immediately take over as Islanders GM from the fired Neil Smith.

In the opening hours of the signing period Sunday, the Islanders lost leading scorer Jason Blake (Toronto), fellow forward Viktor Kozlov and top defenseman Tom Poti to the Washington Capitals, and another forward, Richard Zednik, to Florida.

“This organization has nothing but the utmost pride in Blakey and a deep appreciation for the player he became on Long Island,” Snow said.

Smyth finished second on the club with 68 points and provided necessary leadership New York needed in its dressing room. The Islanders added Sim, a 30-year-old, grinding right winger who had 17 goals and 12 assists in 77 games with Atlanta last season.

“Jon Sim is an aggressive, hardworking veteran forward with good offensive skills who fits in perfectly with Ted Nolan’s system,” Snow said.

In 307 NHL games over eight NHL seasons, the 5-10, 190-pound Sim posted 52 goals and 45 assists.

“I really like Jonathan’s game and I believe he’s an excellent addition for us,” Nolan said. “He’s a tenacious player who doesn’t take off a shift. He’s exactly the kind of player we want for the Islanders.”

Blake, who had career highs of 40 goals and 69 points last season, signed a five-year, $20 million contract with the Maple Leafs. Kozlov, who had a career-best 25 goals and 51 points with New York, turned that into a two-year, $5 million deal with the Capitals. He will team again with Poti, an offensive-minded defenseman who put up 44 points in his only season with the Islanders.

Poti received a four-year, $14 million contract from the Capitals. Zednik, also acquired shortly before the trade deadline, signed a two-year deal worth $3.25 million with the Panthers.

The Islanders also bought out the contract of former captain Alexei Yashin after the season, and were prepared to make Smyth the new captain if they could have convinced him to stay.

Regardless of whom New York signs to replace the lost parts, those players will be in front of goalie Rick DiPietro, who is set to enter the second season of his landmark 15-year contract with the Islanders.