Alex the Grate
In another move that could backfire, the Islanders got brooding star Alexei Yashin
Mike Milbury's phenomenally unsuccessful five-and-a-half-year reign as Islanders general manager has been defined by a series of misguided trades. Last weekend he moved more boldly than any other general manager at the NHL draft, trading some of the Islanders' promising youth for a pair of 27-year-old restricted free agent centers—former Hart Trophy finalist Alexei Yashin of the Senators and erstwhile first-liner Michael Peca of the Sabres. The headline-grabbing acquisition of Yashin, whom Milbury got for the No. 2 selection in last week's draft plus blossoming 24-year-old defenseman Zdeno Chara and solid 26-year-old winger Bill Muckalt, bodes ominously for New York.
Yashin does bring exceptional scoring punch—his 40 goals and 88 points last season led the Senators—but he's also a somber presence coming to a team that desperately needs an infusion of light. Even during a stint as Ottawa's captain, Yashin was aloof in the dressing room. He has also been involved in three prolonged contract disputes, most infamously missing the 1999-2000 season while refusing to honor the final year of a contract that would have paid him $3-6 million.
Milbury is notorious for his contentiousness in contract negotiations, and he concedes that he's steeling himself for a battle this summer with Yashin. "Everybody deserves a chance to make some mistakes," Milbury says of Yashin's past. "God knows I feel that way about my situation."
At least Yashin's uninspired play in recent postseasons—no goals in his last eight playoff games—shouldn't hurt the Islanders. New York has missed the playoffs every year under Milbury, and its 21-51-7-3 record last season was the worst in the NHL. Even with Yashin, a 6' 3" 225-pound pivotman with a rare blend of agility and strength, the Islanders are a long shot to reach the postseason. To get Peca, a former Selke Trophy winner, New York gave up forwards Tim Connolly, 20, and Taylor Pyatt, 19, both former first-round picks who were regulars last season for the Islanders.
The loss of the 6'9", 255-pound Chara, who was the Islanders' biggest hitter as well as an adept all-around blueliner, leaves New York thin on defense. More worrisome, the Islanders are relying on 19-year-old goalie Rick DiPietro, a top-tier talent who appeared overmatched in going 3-15-1 as a rookie in 2000-01. The Islanders depend on DiPietro only because last June, Milbury traded 21-year-old Roberto Luongo, who has since shown signs of becoming a franchise goalie for the Panthers, for a couple of second-line forwards.
Supplemental Discipline Idea
Thug Does His Thing; Team Pays
There was no discussion of supplemental discipline at last week's NHL board of governors meeting, but there should have been. With the memory still fresh of Leafs forward Tie Dorm's vicious elbow to the head of Devils defenseman Scott Niedermayer in Game 4 of a second-round series, the time is now for the league to make a radical change in how it punishes players.
The image of Domi's blow hasn't faded for two reasons. First, Domi recently said that he may appeal the remaining eight regular-season games of his 11-match suspension. (He was banished from Toronto's final three postseason matches.) Second, an unsettling feeling exists around the league that justice wasn't served by the penalty to Domi. Although New Jersey eliminated the Leafs, the Devils were at a disadvantage for the final three matches because Niedermayer, an All-Star-caliber defenseman, was sidelined with a concussion. In Domi, Toronto lost only a role player.
A more just punishment would have been to empower New Jersey to select any Toronto skater to sit out the rest of the series. Imagine if the Leafs had been forced to play without a top-line forward like Mats Sundin or Gary Roberts. Then Toronto, not New Jersey, would have been at a disadvantage, as the Leafs deserved to be. To discourage gratuitous acts such as Domi's, the NHL and the players' association should agree to this fairer system of supplemental punishment.