Hold Out Longer
Ottawa must deal disgruntled star Alexei Yashin, but now's not the time
Shed no tears for Senators holdout center Alexei Yashin, who learned in late June that he still owes Ottawa a season of service. An arbitrator ruled that Yashin, who refused to play in 1999-2000, the final season of his five-year, $13.5 million contract with the Senators, had not fulfilled the terms of his deal and thus did not qualify for restricted free agency as he had hoped.
That Ottawa will eventually trade Yashin is clear; the question is when. Publicly, the Senators have said they would welcome him back. Meanwhile, roughly 20 of the 29 other NHL teams aren't interested in him because of his contract demands, which are reportedly in the $8 million-per-season range. Those teams that might be interested in Yashin see no pressing need to make a major trade in July and will be wary of giving up too much for a player who has asked to have his contract renegotiated three times in his six-year career.
Yashin, 26, is a highly skilled offensive player, a good setup man and a deft finisher who in his last full NHL season, 1998-99, had 94 points (44 goals and 50 assists) and was a Hart Trophy finalist. The two years before that he had respectable 72- and 75-point seasons. However, he struggled in his last playoff series, going scoreless as heavily favored Ottawa was swept by the Sabres in the opening round in '99. In fact, there is nothing in Yashin's history to suggest that he can crank up his play when it matters most.
In the NHL these days, teams give $8 million only to sure things, such as Jaromir Jagr, Peter Forsberg and Paul Kariya—players who finish in the top 10 in scoring season after season. To ask any team to pay top dollar for Yashin after only one breakout year is unreasonable.
No general manager is more supportive of Russian players than the Blackhawks' Mike Smith, but amid rumors last month that Chicago was trying to acquire Yashin, Smith said, "We're not in the market for any grossly high-paid players or any player who wants to become grossly high paid." Islanders owner Sanjay Kumar also shot down speculation that Yashin was heading to the Islanders, saying that he was not interested in a player who treated a contract with such disregard.
The best strategy for Senators general manager Marshall Johnston may be to wait. By December or January, when teams can better gauge their shortcomings, their level of desperation—and their interest in Yashin—may rise. One former general manager says that Johnston should try to "create a market for him. Yashin is one of the good players in the league, but the only way [Johnston will] maximize his return is to create a competition for him."
As for Yashin, who has not said whether he will end his holdout: If he really wants out of Ottawa, he should return to the team, play well and try to shed his reputation for selfishness. Because in the brave new NHL world, the motto in executive suites is caveat emptor: Buyer beware.
Kevin Stevens Returns
Still One of the Most Wanted
Coming off a three-goal season during which he was arrested for unlawful possession of a controlled substance (he pleaded not guilty and has a trial date next month) and missed the final three months, part of which was spent in a rehabilitation program, Kevin Stevens, 35, might have thought his career was over. Not so. Stevens, a free agent left wing, became the object of a bidding war among a half dozen teams, and last week he signed a one-year, $600,000 contract with Philadelphia. The main reason clubs were so eager to give the 13-year veteran a second chance? On each of the four teams for which he has played, Stevens has been enormously popular in the dressing room.