Czerkawski Eyes Big Season
By Alan Hahn
You think Mariusz Czerkawski is glad the Islanders
last spring never followed through on his demand to be
traded? After just two weeks of exhibition games
skating on a line with star center Alexei Yashin, it
appears the 29-year-old Polish right wing couldn't be
happier anywhere else.
"I'm looking big-time forward to the season,"
Czerkawski said Saturday, after netting two goals in
the Islanders' 3-1 win over the Thrashers in Atlanta
in the preseason finale. He leads the league with five
goals and 11 points in five preseason games.
Yashin, a 40-goal scorer in each of his past two
seasons in Ottawa, did not score a goal in five games
but racked up six assists - most of them on
"He's a great hockey player," Yashin said of
Czerkawski, who earned his first all-star appearance
in 2000. "He can put the puck in the net." Earlier in
training camp, Czerkawski hinted that after reaching
the 30-goal mark in each of the past two seasons, he
was aiming for 40 goals this season. His career best
came in 1999-2000, when he hit 35 and added 70 points.
Before then, he never scored more than 26 and was
thought to be an underachiever. With Yashin,
Czerkawski imagines limitless possibilities.
"You feel comfortable," he said, speaking of himself.
"You know what [Yashin] is capable of. And he's
capable of a lot." So is the Islanders' top line,
which includes power forward Brad Isbister. After a
curiously quiet training camp, Isbister (0-1-1 in five
preseason games) had a terrific game against the
Thrashers. He did not score, but the swift-skating,
bruising left wing showed the kind of physical effort
that complements his linemates.
"I like the way the line works," Isbister said. "It's
very exciting." Coincidentally, all three players were
inked to new contracts over the summer. Czerkawski
almost did not return after his agent demanded a trade
in late spring during some tumultuous contract
negotiations. Last season, Isbister was forced to sign
an under-market value, one-year deal during training
camp or risk being locked out for the entire season.
And everyone knows about Yashin's contract history
with the Senators.
Now, with no financial concerns in the back of their
minds, there's only one thing left to do.
"We've got to deliver," he said. "We've got to produce
as a line. That's what we're paid for."
Notes & Quotes: What coach Peter Laviolette liked most
about goalie Chris Osgood's 26-save debut Saturday was
his steadiness and calm demeanor, even in scrambles
around the net ... The Islanders' payroll is
$33,710,000. Over the next few weeks, GM Mike Milbury
is expected to try and whittle it down closer to the
$30-million budget planned for this season. A player
that could be moved is defenseman Kevin Haller, who
will make $1.6 million this season with two more years
thereafter left on his contract