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Poti leaves Rangers, signs with Islanders

NEW YORK -- Tom Poti is leaving the Rangers, but the veteran
NHL defenseman is staying in New York.

The 29-year-old Poti joined the rival Islanders on Saturday by
signing a one-year, $2.75 million deal after three-plus up-and-down seasons on Broadway.

"From the beginning of free agency, I told my agent that I
wanted to see if something could be worked out with the
Islanders," said Poti, a U.S. Olympian in 2002. "The opportunity
to be one of the veterans on such a talented young team is
something I wanted."

Poti was thrust into the spotlight with the Rangers after
fan-favorite Brian Leetch was traded to Toronto late in the 2001-02
season -- New York's fifth straight out of the playoffs.

Known as an offensive-minded defenseman, Poti never could live
up to expectations and was unable to be a comparable replacement to
Leetch -- a likely Hall of Famer.

So he would hear boos starting from pregame introductions and
through each time he touched the puck.

Last season, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Poti -- who isn't a strong,
physical presence on the ice -- had three goals and 20 assists in 73
games. He ranked first on the Rangers with 123 blocked shots and
was tops among defensemen with 122 shots on goal.

Poti was a plus-16 and posted two goals and 12 assists on the
power play. His departure from the Rangers was basically sealed
when New York signed former Carolina defenseman Aaron Ward to a
two-year, $5.5 million deal on Monday.

Poti should serve as a complement to hard-hitting defenseman
Brendan Witt, who signed a three-year deal with the Islanders
during the opening week of free agency.

"Tom Poti is a perfect fit for us," general manager Neil Smith
said. "I spoke with him several times over the last week and I was
really impressed by Tom's desire to become an Islander. He knew we
had a need for a skilled defenseman and he really wanted to be a
part of our team."

Poti should continue to see time on the power play, where he can
start the offense from the blue line. In addition to Witt, the
Islanders also have veterans Alexei Zhitnik, Radek Martinek and
Joel Bouchard on defense along with second-year player Chris
Campoli.

In 516 NHL games, the first 285 with Edmonton before being dealt
to the Rangers, Poti has 52 goals, 156 assists and a plus-13
rating. The Worcester, Mass., native -- a fourth-round pick of the
Oilers in 1996 -- had a career-high 37 assists during the 2002-03
season, his first with the Rangers.