The news got lost between the UFA swap and shop and the parting with Ted Nolan, but Brendan Witt’s decision to sign a two-year extension with the Islanders was unmistakably a big deal for reasons beyond the playing surface. Take this to the bank: the rugged shutdown defenseman could have fulfilled the final year of his Islanders contract in ’08-09 (or perhaps been traded at the deadline to a contender, if the Islanders were out of it) and could have signed for more money than the $3 mill annum he accepted from his current team.
At the risk of taking this out on not-so-poor Jeff Finger, you saw how much dough a bunch of dime-a-dozen dboys got in July. How much would a seasoned, shot-blocking, pain-loving man who drives Crosby and Malkin to distraction have brought home?
For the way he always plays hurt and recklessly flings his body around the rink, I always thought Witt was a bit screwy. So I called him up to get his take on why he committed to the Islanders.
“I got a call from (agent) Paul Theofanous after the unrestricted market settled down in mid-July. He really stunned me with the news. Paul said Garth Snow had been in contact and wanted to make an offer to keep me an Islander past the year I had left on my deal.
“The reason why I was surprised is that I’ve been in the game a long time and that’s not usually how it’s done. Teams usually take a wait-and-see approach. They see you as a commodity. Most of the time, they want to do a deal only at the last moment when it is the right time for the team.
“I was really flattered that Garth approached, and I knew Charles Wang endorsed the decision – which meant a lot to me. Garth was up-front with me about his plans for a youth movement, which I understand, but he made it clear he wanted me to be around as one of the leaders. I was honored.
“Paul laid out all of my options – what the next year could bring, what the market might look like, what I could be worth. I immediately talked it over with my wife (Salima). We were instant agreement that we wanted to stay on Long Island. It wasn’t a very long discussion. Salima and our children, we all love it here. To me, it’s one of the great secrets in the NHL – how incredible Long Island is. Before I came here, I was like every other player in the league: you saw the Marriott and the Coliseum, and that was it.
“We’ve also have made great friendships here and the fans have been so good to us, too. So it was a pretty smooth negotiation, if you could even call it that. From the day of the first call to me signing the deal, I don’t think it was any longer than a week.
“I don’t know if I left anything on the table and I don’t think much about it. I know it was a fair deal for both sides, and my family and I are so happy about it. The economics of the game have changed, that I know for sure. You’re seeing some very young players get huge contracts. Most of the older players, not so much. You’re not going to hear me complain about this deal.
“I just want to keep on playing the way I do and hopefully help the kids along. When I started out with the Caps, I learned a lot from their older guys. Calle Johansson was great to me, so was Mark Tinordi. Kevin Hatcher was at my first camp, Al Iafrate. The biggest thing they taught me is that you can have a good time at work, but you have to bust your tail off. You can never go through the motions or it will hurt the team.
“I know how much those guys helped me. I want to do the same for our guys on the Island.”