Smyth will skate on his new team’s top line with Jason Blake, head coach Ted Nolan said Wednesday. Alexei Yashin will be the centre when he’s over the knee injury he’s been rehabbing. Nolan says it’ll be soon.
The Islanders have enhanced their chances of qualifying for the NHL playoffs by earning at least one point in 15 of their last 17 games, and getting Smyth and Richard Zednik before the trading deadline Tuesday will help them in their push to nail down a spot.
Blake and his buddies were elated to get the reinforcements, especially Smyth.
“I mentioned to a couple of guys we got Ryan and, the smiles on their faces, they looked like kids back in junior hockey,” Nolan said during a conference call.
Smyth’s style of play is right up Nolan’s alley.
“His demeanour and attitude inside the dressing room will give us a boost, too,” said Nolan. “We got Mike Sillinger, Brendan Witt and Sean Hill during the off-season and now we’ve added Smyth.
“I thought it was just talk at first but (GM) Garth (Snow) pursued it. I still didn’t believe him when he told me we got him. We couldn’t ask for a better fit.”
Meanwhile, San Jose head coach Ron Wilson said he’d put newly-acquired Bill Guerin on left wing on his first line with centre Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo for a game against visiting Nashville on Wednesday night. Guerin is a natural right-winger, but is willing to play on the left side if that’s what Wilson wants. Guerin and Thornton were teammates in Boston.
“I think there’ll be instant chemistry there because they’ve had it in the past,” said Wilson.
The Sharks are sixth in the Western Conference – a cinch to make the playoffs.
Adding Guerin, and defenceman Craig Rivet last weekend, adds some character leadership to a young team.
“I think it sends a clear message to our players that we believe in our team and we think by adding Bill it makes us even stronger in our push to win a Stanley Cup this year,” said Wilson. “We have a young team and some people might use that as an excuse not to win the Cup this year . .. but we’re saying the time is now and we plan to win the Cup this year.”
Wilson is 10 games shy of 1,000 as an NHL head coach. He’ll become the 13th to reach the milestone when he steps behind the bench on March 18 in Denver.
Wilson coached Guerin on U.S. World Cup and Olympic teams.
“I’ve know Bill for 15 years or so now,” Wilson said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun for me having a player like that on my team.
“We needed a bit more leadership in the room and players who have been in those wars. Rivet is going to stabilize our back end and Bill is adding experience up front. Nobody on our team outside of Bill has played on a Stanley Cup champion. We’ll ask him to mentor people as well as what he does on the ice.”
Instead just scraping into the playoffs, the Islanders now have incentive to believe they can do some damage when the second season starts. The way Rick DiPietro is tending goal, it seems feasible.
“Most certainly,” said Nolan. “Adding a player of Ryan’s calibre has to put you in a different place.
“A player of Ryan’s character and calibre makes every other player in the room better. I think Ryan is going to make our team a lot better.”
Nolan said he’d personally try to help Smyth become adjusted to his new surroundings.
“My coaching philosophy is not just to put players on the ice to see what they do,” he said. “I feel it’s important to find out who they are as people.
“We’ll try to make him as comfortable as we can and help him with the transition. We’ll make him feel as if he’s really wanted.”
Nolan said Smyth will enjoy Long Island, where he’ll play without as much media attention as he received in Edmonton.
“You have the best of both worlds – attention when you play, but not big media scrums after practice. It’s like going back to bantam hockey having fun and just being who you are. You like the attention once in a while but, to have it constantly, it wears on you.”
Wilson said he was still trying to comprehend the Smyth trade to the Islanders.
“I was shocked,” he said. “I’m sure everybody in the league was shocked that that happened.”