Emerging blueliner inked past first year of potential unrestricted free agency
The Islanders have signed recently-acquired defenseman Brent Sopel to a two-year contract. The 28-year old Sopel had 10 goals and 32 assists for 42 points - all career bests - in 80 games in 2003-04 with the Vancouver Canucks. He would have been eligible to become an unresticted free agent in the summer of 2006. Islanders defensemen Alexei Zhitnik, Janne Niinimaa, Brad Lukowich and Sopel are now all signed for the next two seasons, Zhitnik for an additional two seasons beyond that.
Sopel's 42 points placed him tied for 14th among NHL defensemen. Of the 13 defensemen ahead of Sopel on the scoring chart, only Ottawa's Wade Redden is younger than the new Islanders defenseman. Sopel was the Canucks' leader on the blueline in assists and points. He also took 173 shots, was plus-11, scored six power play goals and averaged just under 22 minutes played per game.
Sopel was acquired earlier this month in a trade with the Canucks for a conditional draft pick. As a result of Sopel signing beyond the 2005-06 season, the Islanders will give the Canucks a second round pick in the 2006 draft.
In 302 career NHL games, all with Vancouver, Sopel is 32-93-125 with 129 penalty minutes. His offensive output has increased in each of the last three seasons: 27 points in 2001-02, 37 points in 2002-03 and 42 points in 2003-04.
The 6-1, 210-pound Sopel was originally a sixth round selection of the Canucks in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft.