Blake: It's a deal or no deal

Travel deals

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

trade deadline.

"If they don't want to sign me, maybe they should trade me and get

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

line with Viktor Kozlov and Miro Satan against Boston last night at TD

Banknorth Garden.

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"

attack.

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."

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