Wednesday, 6 June 2007

The End Or The Start Of An Era?

Somebody finally came to their senses. According to TSN today, the New York Islanders have finally decided to buy out perennial big-money disappoinment Alexei Yashin. The cost might be high, but this is a step in the right direction for an up-and-coming Islanders team. Losing a guy who goes invisible for long stretches during the season, not to mention completely disappearing in the playoffs, will only help their young franchise. For a guy who has worn the captain's "C" for the Islanders' franchise, he was probably the worst on-ice leader in recent memory. In any case, Alexei Yashin's stay on Long Island is officially over.

The salary cap breakdown isn't that bad. Yashin had $26.45 million left on his 10-year, $87.5 million contract he signed after the team acquired him from the Ottawa Senators in 2001. Under the terms of the NHL collective-bargaining agreement, the Islanders can pay Yashin two-thirds of that amount, approximately $17.63 million, over the next eight years to buy him out. The team will still count $2.2 million of his salary under their cap over that same time period. Yes, they eat up eight years of $2 million dollars in salary. At the same time, you don't have a guy on your roster who isn't helping you win. You have to give to get.

Of course, Islanders' owner Charles Wang took the high-road in his comment on this decision.

"This decision was one of the hardest I have ever had to make," Mr. Wang commented. "The organization holds Alexei in the highest regard - as a player, as a teammate and as a person. He was part of the revival of the franchise at a time when we had not qualified for the playoffs for eight seasons. All of us at the Islanders wish Alexei nothing but the best as he continues his career."

Allow me to translate Mr. Wang's comments: "I had a tough time parting with that much money and getting no return," Mr. Wang commented. "The New York Islanders gambled on a Mike Milbury hunch that basically screwed us over. I was gullible enough to believe that trading Zdeno Chara, Bill Muckalt, and Jason Spezza would result in good things for our franchise with Yashin at the helm. I wish nothing but the best for Yashin as long as he's no longer with this team."

Ok, so that's a little harsh. However, if you talk to any Islander fan, I'm sure they would feel the same way. Alexei Yashin scored 119 goals and 290 points in 346 games for the Islanders. His best season came in 2001-02 when he notched 32 goals and 75 points in 78 games, leading the Isles back to the playoffs. However, in trading Zdeno Chara, Bill Muckalt, and a draft pick that turned out to be Jason Spezza for Yashin, I'd wager any amount of money that the fans would want a "do-over".

Last season, Yashin scored 28 points in his first 22 games under new head coach Ted Nolan. However, a sprained knee caused him to miss 24 games, and significantly lowered his scoring pace to 50 points in the last 58 games. In the playoffs against the Buffalo Sabres, he failed to score a goal. You expect more from a leader and superstar earning the kind of money Yashin was making. A lot more.

Maybe the expectations were too high for Yashin. Maybe his injuries and his age caught up to him faster than expected. Or maybe he isn't worth the money that the Islanders threw at him. My guess is that it is the latter of the three choices. Whatever it is, he'll be selling his services at a discount through free agency now.

"The Islanders have treated me with the utmost respect," said Yashin. "I've always believed in the vision Charles Wang has for the organization and although I won't be a part of it, I believe that the team is headed in the right direction. I'm looking forward to this new chapter in my life."

A new chapter, indeed. Where ever he ends up, I would guess that he'll have to work extremely hard to shed all the negatives that come with his signing. My guess is that he'll stay in North America, but there's a good chance he could be signed by a Russian SuperLeague team much like Alexei Morozov was.

Whatever the outcome of this, Alexei Yashin's free ride in the NHL is over. From one era to the next, it's all about beginnings and endings, and this could be the end of Yashin's mediocre NHL career.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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