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The Myth of Smyth and Other Free Agency Tall-Tales

July 2, 2007, 8:17 AM ET [ Comments]

How some teams struck out yesterday like the LA Kings, Buffalo Sabres and NY Islanders

B.D. Gallof

Author's note: The following is either satire, hockey prognostication or just errant observations...anything factual or actually insightful is unintended

There is a bitter taste seeping into the mouths of many...where the sweet taste of hype and hopes melt into an acrid mix of disappointment and envy. Where orders for Smyth jerseys have been canceled by those who ate the Islanders rhetoric for the past several months...washed away by one day where better organizations, presentations and living arrangements can pluck that player and crush those dreams in one foul sweep of a Joe Sakic stick.

The Islanders only shot was to offer a bonzo deal when a team like the Avs are still hunting for a forward. Were they considered in the end? I'm sure they were with an upped deal that was for more years than the Avs. But Colorado offered too many intangibles the Islanders simply could not match. Joe Sakic. And then add a future captaincy when Sakic retires in a place that is very much a hockey city with a small town vibe.

It was never in the cards for Ryan Smyth, who was shocked that he was dealt in the first place. Long Island was good to him, and they took on a huge risk. But those who cry over the loss of Nilsson, O'Mara and a 1st round pick should realize that package was also offered for Bill Guerin back at the trade deadline. That Snow and company declared them expendable before that Smyth deal was ever made. That was the going rate for a star at an inflated market. Isles reaped the reward of having Smyth and scraping into a playoffs, but seeing how much farther they have to go to compete past the 1st round.

Yesterday, Garth Snow and Company also saw what it takes to grab and HOLD onto a star. Perhaps a large learning experience for the sophomore GM, who will likely make plays for Zubrus and Guerin, if not make some trades to shore up weaknesses. Snow admitted to being a bit surprised over the contracts handed out. Nobody else was. It was a no-brainer that after last season's deadline deals overpayments and a higher cap that money would be spent.

Yesterday was toughest for their fans when their Islander INSIDER emails touted a signing of...Jon Sim? And then another talking about fishlines in the water...like they were trying to land flounder. Flounder is actually exactly what they caught so far...BUT...

All is NOT lost on Long Island. But definitely a fall to earth for everyone involved. While Jason Blake went to the land of overpayment, Toronto...receiving EXACTLY what he was asking for, 5 years at 4 million each...Washington poached Poti and Kozlov. Kozlov, inexplicably was offered a small raise by LI, and signed for 2.5 million per year, which was a fair market value. Poti got 3.5 million per year for 4 years, which seems to be one year more than what LI offered. So not only did they have their eye glued on the prize they never get, but they lose two affordable people who performed well under Nolan right under their very noses. A learning experience indeed.

Speaking to a fall to earth, as the rumormill first churned yesterday, Dean Lombardi and his LA Kings were front and center with plays for Briere and Drury. Some thought they both might land in LA. But at the end, Lombardi is quoted as saying that he's not fond of using this market to rebuild a team. Well...DUH!

This is the second burn for Dean who tried to trade down in the 1st round of the draft and failed, taking Hickey, despite a good prospect, well too soon, and not creating value. LA, unlike the Isles, has no longterm backstop and has still far more work to do to be a player in a bullmarket. They need patience and time.

Then we have Buffalo, who's fans stewed, squirmed and groaned when they saw the typical Darcy Regier lowballing create two men ready to cash in elsewhere. Buffalo, unlike LI and LA, will land on their feet. Their system is strong and they have good players still in-house. They might not be as mighty as they once were, but with solid goaltending and an almost assured focus on signing RFA Vanek now, plus plays for depth like Zubrus might assure themselves another run. They still need some help because losing two star centers is a huge loss, but Buffalo will plug along cheaply and solidly.

Obviously we all know other players and trade are forthcoming. All is hardly finished in all three places. But the rich have gotten stronger. The more organized and attractive places get better. And some are left wearing the prom dress as the limo leaves us flat, driving off into the dawn...

So, as we wake to a new day...the sun rising like a rising star's contract in the NEW NHL, there is a hard truth about large organizations and smaller ones. And you will you hear the pundits sing and the cacophony of groans from your team's faithful...where the disparity is magnified in this schism time between contenders and pretenders. We now chew the reality AND its corresponding discourse with a grim steely look, hoping that the season that starts in October does not hurt as much as the last one...and gets better than the post-UFA day malaise that is sweeping places and fandom like in LA, Long Island, and Buffalo.

It's got to get better. Keep the faith.
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