Kenny Jonsson may not return to NHL next season.
May 15, 2003 — Kenny Jonsson, a restricted free agent, is considering not returning to the NHL next season, The Post has learned. It’s a loss that would be a significant blow to the Islanders’ defense, on which Jonsson is a top-four workhorse who averaged 23:14 a game last year.
Jonsson was quoted as saying he doesn’t want to get involved in a “fractured negotiation” and that he wants it to be as smooth as possible, sources confirmed yesterday.
Jonsson, who will be 29 at the start of next season, was quoted in a Stockholm newspaper saying he would rather not get involved in a long, tedious contract negotiation and would opt to stay in Europe if a new deal could not be worked out quickly and amicably. The comments were curious because Isles GM Mike Milbury, according to sources, wants to get Jonsson, who made $2.5 million (their third-highest paid blue-liner behind Roman Hamrlik’s $3.5 million and Janne Niinimaa’s $2.9 million) last season, locked up as soon as possible.
A rough negotiation, which doesn’t seem likely given Jonsson’s popularity with players and management, could steer the former Islanders captain in the direction of staying home next year. Milbury traded for Jonsson, currently the longest-tenured Islander, in a trade with Toronto on March 13, 1996, for Wendel Clark and Mathieu Schneider.
Milbury long has been a fan of Jonsson’s and his slick puck-handling under duress, once referring to No. 29 as the team’s best defenseman “by a country mile.” Peter Laviolette often referred to Jonsson as “brilliant” over the last two seasons, and Adrian Aucoin said Jonsson is the best defensive partner he’s ever had.
But Jonsson has been plagued by several head injuries throughout his career, which could eventually lead to his decision to not play anymore. He was knocked out of last year’s playoffs with a concussion and several times this past year sat out with what the team called “post-traumatic migraines” following heavy hits. In all, he missed 11 games this season but finished with eight goals and 26 points.
The loss of Jonsson in my opinion would be huge for the Isles. The Isles need scoring up front and one possibility is to either trade Roman Hamrlik or Kenny Jonsson for that sniper. If Jonsson were to head back home, the Isles would have to keep the remaining top 3 just to keep the defense respectable and hope that minor leaguers, draft picks or a possible free agent acquisition will boost the scoring.