BOSTON - Impatient with the lack of progress toward a
long-term contract, All-Star forward Jason Blake yesterday said he probably
will leave as a free agent if the Islanders don't sign him by the Feb. 27 NHL
"If they don't want to sign me, maybe they should trade me and get
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something that's good for them," Blake said. "If I'm not signed by the 27th,
then I'm going to test the market, and I don't think I'll be back."
At 33, Blake is in the middle of a career season in which he has 27 goals,
one short of his career high, and 21 assists to lead the team with 48 points.
Currently making $1.56 million, Blake is seeking a five-year deal likely worth
somewhere in the vicinity of $18 million.
Islanders general manager Garth Snow has taken a cautious approach toward
committing to a long-term deal, a stance Blake interprets as a lack of serious
interest. Neil Sheehy, Blake's agent, said he and Snow have talked a couple of
times but are "no closer to a deal at this point."
Snow and coach Ted Nolan both said they have no plans to trade Blake at the
deadline and have not shopped him around the league to test his value. But
Blake is bothered by the lack of urgency to get a deal done.
"I'm not saying they owe me anything," Blake said. "But I've been here six
years. You expect there would be some loyalty. But I don't think it's going to
get done before the trade deadline."
If there is no deal and Blake remains with the team, the Islanders are the
only team that can negotiate with him before the beginning of the free-agent
signing period July 1. If it goes that far, Blake plans to see what's available.
"I'd like to stay," Blake said. Referring to Islanders owner Charles Wang,
he added, "I like Mr. Wang, and I think it's a good organization with a good
bunch of guys. But there are 29 [other] teams. I'll test the market and see
what's out there for me and who wants me."
Blake enjoyed a hot start this season on a line with Alexei Yashin. But
Yashin is on the injured list, and Blake admitted his frustration with a
four-game scoreless streak. Trying to get Blake untracked, Nolan moved him to a
A year ago, the Islanders traded Blake's good friend Mark Parrish at the
trade deadline because he planned to sign as a free agent with Minnesota to
play where he grew up. Blake talks frequently with Parrish and also has
considered the prospect of returning home to play for the Wild and its "go-go"
Despite Blake's suggestion that the Islanders should consider trading him
if they aren't prepared to make a long-term commitment, Snow has no plans to
sell off his top scorer in the middle of the Islanders' playoff push.
"I've said all along that I plan on being a buyer, not a seller, at the
deadline," Snow said. "We're trying to win the Stanley Cup, and Jason is a big
part of our team this year. A lot of players are going to be free agents at the
end of the year, and I don't see every team that has that type of player
trying to unload them. For us, we're looking to make our team better."
Snow declined to comment on details of negotiations or whether the
Islanders are prepared to let Blake walk as a free agent this summer for
nothing in return. He reiterated his intention of trying to sign Blake during
the offseason and said he was "startled" by Blake's comments.
"I think Jason Blake's energy should be on helping this team win hockey
games," Snow said. "His energy shouldn't be focused on his contract status. We
have until July 1."