Jul 22, 2011

Speculation: Re-Visiting Alexei Yashin and the Implications of Signing Him

Well, here we are again. We posted a piece on Yashin a few days back when it first came out that Alexei was talking with a few teams: some KHL, one NHL. Obviously, it was easy to put the pieces together. The former Islanders captain still has a relationship with owner Charles Wang, he has a history on Long Island with a team that doesn't get much interest to begin with, and he's a free agent. The worst kept secret in hockey the other day was that the Islanders were the team Yashin was negotiating with.

Fast forward to today, and Katie Strang confirms all of this (and more) on her blog on Newsday (complete with quotes from Snow and Yashin's agent Marc Gandler). Islandermania and Islanders Point Blank go up in a frenzy, so where does this leave us?

As I posted today on Twitter, this is a Charles Wang executive decision. While Garth Snow is going to get the scrutiny here, he is just doing what he is told. If you want to criticize Snow for that, go ahead. But let's focus on the real problem here. By even announcing that they are negotiating with the biggest fan pariah outside Kirk Muller in Islander history, they are showing they are more concerned about friendships than accountability. Yes, Charles Wang is a very loyal man - we've seen it on a few occasions - trying to make it work in Nassau County, the Rick DiPietro contract, and now this. A line needs to be drawn, however, and they are crossing that line.

There is a point of ridiculousness where the Islanders will be paying a player to play - the same player who they are currently paying NOT to play for them. You can call a buyout what you want, but it's essentially a firing with the severance package being the sum of money the player gets over the course of the term. The Islanders are actually contemplating bringing back a 37-year old Alexei Yashin after "firing" a 32-year old Alexei Yashin five years ago.

Of course, there are some pretty important cap implications when you take a closer look at it. The Islanders will be somewhere in the ballpark of $5 million under the floor after Blake Comeau's arbitration case. Yashin is 37 years old, which means he is eligible for 35+ bonuses, or the Doug Weight clause, if you will. The Isles can give him as many unattainable bonuses as they like, all of which will count on his cap hit. If they want to give him $500K for each playoff round won, they can do that. That's an extra $2 million right there. They may not even have to make a move for the defenseman everyone wants if they do this,

But before we get ahead of ourselves, this is still a hockey blog and not a PR blog. In this case, the two things certainly mix. From a hockey perspective, Yashin can help. He will not be brought in to be anything more than a support player, and one that could produce approximately 45 points and could fill in on a one-year term if a guy like Comeau is traded. That's not the point. You have to look at the whole package. Yashin, who is one of the nicest players in the business, carries too much "Islander baggage" for this thought to be at all tolerable. Yashin's problem has always been his killer instinct - he is not lazy and he does care about winning. He just won't go the extra mile to do so, and that is what has always kept him from being elite.

Obviously, there is no question this report comes at the worst possible time for the New York Islanders. With just ten days before the referendum vote, the Islanders need every fan's unconditional support. The problem is, bringing back Alexei Yashin was one of those conditions that will turn away a lot of people. The buzz from the fans just melted, and whether they sign him or not, the damage is essentially already done. It is clueless and without thought to the customers that have helped this franchise so much over the past few years. There really is just no other way to put it.

That said, anyone who is going to Vote NO because of this needs their head checked. We can argue forever about Yashin, but Charles Wang will not be here forever. It is up to us to make sure the Islanders are here for the foreseeable future. If that means a year of Alexei Yashin and more of Charles Wang's meddling ways, that's the trade-off. Do not sacrifice NHL hockey, jobs, an arena, Nassau County's future because the Islanders are thinking of doing the unthinkable. You will just be as shortsighted, if not more, than those who are voting no for the sake of voting no. It looks terrible, but hockey operations are different than the arena campaign. This needs to be a time when things are separated.

We will see how things play out over the next few days, but it's clear that a Yashin return is possible, if not even probable at this point.


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