In the middle of hockey-starved July, the prospect of exiled and polarizing former star Alexei Yashin making his return to the NHL – let alone the New York Islanders, of all teams – becomes a big story. While many scoffed at the notion, both sides have admitted that there’s been some flirtation back and forth, meaning that the Islanders may indeed pay Yashin twice during the 2011-12 season. (The first payments would be for the lingering contract buyout that will reward him $2.2 million per year 2014-15, the second if the two sides agree to a new deal.)
While the situation furrows more than a few brows and produces countless punchlines in hockey circles, we might not get an answer for some time. The Islanders certainly have bigger fish to fry with the August 1 public referendum for an essential new arena hanging over their heads, but Yashin seems like he’s not feeling very hasty either.
Yashin is reportedly working out at the Islanders training facility, but he told Katie Strang of Newsday that he might need some time to mull over his options.
Yashin said he has no timeline on when he plans to make a decision. The KHL season begins in September; the Islanders’ opening night is Oct. 8 against the Florida Panthers .
“I don’t think there’s a particular date. It takes time,” Yashin said. “There’s not any rush to make a decision.”
Can Yashin compete at a high level after four years away from the NHL?
Of course, the natural question is to ask: is Yashin even worth the trouble? The 37-year-old center didn’t have the juice to justify the outrageous 10-year, $87.5 million deal that the franchise handed him in 2001, but he helped the team make the playoffs in four of his five seasons before the buyout. They haven’t made the playoffs since he departed after scoring 50 points in an injury shortened, 58-game 2006-07 season.
That being said, an older player’s game can slip even when he stays in the NHL, so one wonders if Yashin (and fellow controversial returnee Jaromir Jagr) can be effective at an advanced age following a significant hiatus. Yashin seemed confident that he can contribute at the NHL level when discussing the matter with ESPN’s Scott Burnside, noting the veteran successes enjoyed by the likes of Nicklas Lidstrom, Mark Recchi and so on.
“If you’re talking about age, I think it’s more important that it’s the right situation and the right environment so you can perform,” Yashin said.
“I feel confident about myself.”
Of course, none of those players Yashin mentioned carry the same amount of baggage as he will (whether that baggage is totally fair or not).
What role Yashin might fill if he signs with the Islanders
Looking at the Islanders’ 2010-11 time on ice numbers, it might be safe to assume that Yashin would play a Doug Weight-type role on the team, although Weight’s 18 games played provides an admittedly limited road map. Still, the general usage seems like it would be on the nose: solid total time on ice (17:31 minutes per game), tons of power play time (Weight averaged almost five minutes per game) and protected minutes otherwise (less than 30 seconds of penalty kill time per contest).
It’s doubtful that fans will gauge Yashin in the proper context – a limited but potentially skilled forward at this point in his career – even if the Isles sign him to an affordable one-year contract. Most will probably look at Yashin’s cost as “$2.2 million + his new contract amount” and attach bloated expectations to the much-criticized Russian scorer.
For me, the biggest “If” revolves around whether or not the reward is worth the potential chemistry risk. That being said, if any team knows Yashin, it’s the Islanders. In a big picture sense it might not be as bad of a move as some might think, even if the ceiling is pretty low.