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Public Enemy Number One




Hard feelings from a fan base toward a player that leaves a team on bad terms is not rare in hockey or in sports generally speaking. What is somewhat uncommon is when said player's new team's fan base soon feels animosity toward said player. One such case is that of Alexei Yashin, whose contract holdout poisoned his relationship with the fans of the Ottawa Senators, and whose later lack of production and eventual buyout embittered New York Islanders' fans. Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let us look back over the details of "The People v. Alexei Yashin."


To say that relations between the Senators and Yashin were always strained would not be fair, nor would it be true. Yashin was the first draft pick in the history of the modern Senators, with Ottawa taking him with the number two overall pick in 1992. After playing for Dynamo Russia during the 1992-93 season, Yashin joined the Senators for the 1993-94 season, and led the team in scoring as a rookie, with 30 goals and 79 points, and finished fourth in Calder Trophy voting. After one more season in which he led the team in scoring, the first signs of trouble appeared. In 1995, unhappy with his pay, Yashin held out until December. Eventually, a deal was worked out, and though some fans were less than thrilled with Yashin's actions, things appeared to be back to normal. In fact, the Senators finally began to gain some traction, making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history in Yashin's first full season back with the team.


The 1996-97 season began a streak of three consecutive years in which Yashin led the Senators in scoring, and the Senators made the playoffs in each of those three years. In 1998, he was named team captain, and his 44 goal, 94 point season made him runner-up in Hart Trophy balloting after the ensuing season. The Senators won their first division title, and the future looked bright in Ottawa.


Appearances can be deceiving, and the sunshine and roses look in Ottawa certainly was. Yashin was slated to earn $3.6 million the next season, and feeling his market value was much higher demanded another contract, threatening to sit out if he did not receive one. The Senators refused a trade demand, and stripped Yashin of the captaincy, giving it to Daniel Alfredsson. With Yashin still refusing to report, the Senators, with the backing of the NHL chose to suspend him for the 1999-2000 season. Yashin then attempted to sign with a Swiss team, but was barred from doing so, pending the resolution of his North American status.


Not willing to allow Yashin out of the last year of his contract after the holdout, the and without a clause in the CBA addressing such a situation, the Senators took Yashin to arbitration, arguing that he still owed the team the final year of the contract. The arbiter agreed, and Yashin had no choice left but to rejoin the team. On the ice, Yashin was successful in the regular season, with 40 goals and 88 points, but was not well received by fans at any stop. Further exacerbating the situation was his poor performance in the playoffs. Yashin managed only one assist in a four game sweep at the hands of the Maple Leafs, and the damage was done.


The Senators made the most of the situation on Draft Day, 2001, the Senators dealt Yashin to the New York Islanders for forward Bill Muckalt, then little known defenseman Zdeno Chara, and the number two overall pick, which they used to select Jason Spezza. With the eventual production of Spezza and the extremely rapid development of Chara, the trade is now considered to be one of the most lopsided ever. For their part, the Islanders quickly signed Yashin to a 10-year, $87.5 million contract. The price tag was reduced by the 2005 CBA, but the Islanders soon had reason to regret the deal.


In New York, Yashin's point production began to decline, and he was still ineffective in the playoffs. In four playoff appearances with Yashin on the roster, the Islanders never managed to advance past the first round. By the beginning of the 2006-07 season, there were rumblings concerning a potential buyout of Yashin's contract. During the season, he suffered a knee injury, and was less effective after his return. As a result, Islanders head coach Ted Nolan announced that he would rest Yashin until his knee was completely healed, prompting more speculation. Once he did finally return to the lineup, he contributed 13 points in 16 games, but another lackluster playoff performance was the final nail in the coffin. In 2007, the Islanders chose to buy out the contract, paying out $2.2 million per year each season, which ended just this off-season.


Shockingly, after the buyout, Yashin's agent, Mark Gandler, announced Yashin's desire to return to the Senators and said that he would "be calling Ottawa for sure." Not surprisingly, the Senators had no interest in bringing Yashin back to the team, and disappointed with offers received from other NHL teams, Yashin elected to continue his career in the Russian Super League with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. There were talks of his return to the Islanders for the 2011-12 season, but they came to nothing in the end, and Yashin retired in 2012.


For Ottawa, the Yashin drama and trade were a blessing in disguise. Chara and Spezza played key roles in the team's run to the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals. The Islanders learned the hard way that all that glitters is not gold. Immense natural talent does little good if not accompanied with the proper attitude. With 20/20 hindsight, we can easily see that Yashin's attitude probably cost him dearly. One can only wonder, if he had it to do all over again, would he do it differently?

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Yashin just might be the most hated player in the NHL. (By fans.)


His actions were entirely selfish, and he broke all of the rules regarding contracts. That man had no honor.

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He is definitely one of the contenders for the most avaricious hockey players in history, but what makes him even more contentious is how half assed his performances were during postseason. Ofc he would be, he has no potential money to gain during the playoffs...

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A superstar talent with a ten cent head, a perception of himself that he was Gretzky or some such. At one point he had a charity that he was donating money to in Ottawa that he pulled his backing from because they refused (rightly) to put his mother on the board in spite of all language barriers. Best forgotten.

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I think Daigle soured Yashin slightly. In fact, I think there would have been a much different Yashin if Daigle was traded to Quebec at the draft. 


However, in the end they got a nice haul for the Yashin.

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@WordsOfWisdom Yashin was a "me first" type of guy. Guys like Ovi get accused of that by some now for a perception of being more interested in personal stats than anything else, but Ovi has never done anything to directly undermine his team. No honor is an accurate statement.


@JagerMeister The Maple Leafs series in 2001 summed up his playoff performance (or lack thereof) very well. I remember Senators fans (myself included) wanting the #2 seed instead of the #1 seed because we had swept Toronto in the regular season. Suffice it to say, many (myself included) felt that we would have been better off without Yashin. It felt like he was a drag on the whole team.


@yave1964 The charity ordeal showed that his issues were more deeply rooted than hockey. I agree that he had delusions of grandeur. The sad thing is, that if he had played hard and not been so selfish, he probably could have been great. He missed out on a lot because of his attitude.


@Bertmega The thing about Daigle that angered Yashin was that the Senators were touting Daigle more highly before their rookie season. We obviously now know that Daigle was a bust, but at the time, he was thought to be a can't miss superstar. What team wouldn't have talked him up under those circumstances? I really don't think there would have been a difference. Yashin was too greedy anyway. And, yeah, the trade made it all worthwhile.

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Couldn't have a sharper contrast in that photo: from Yashin (classless) to Alfredsson (total class).


I'm so glad the Senators got a great return when they got rid of Yashin. All too often it goes the other way, and the team loses out big time when trying to move a disgruntled star player. The Sens managed to maintain their momentum and take the team to a higher level of performance without Yashin. It was a victory in terms of the team winning out over the individual. 


Anyway, I'm happy to forget about Yashin. I actually forgot about him many years ago.  :)

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Yeah, I shed no tears over seeing Yashin go either. The great thing about it from my perspective as a Sens fan was that all the heartache made the team better in the end. They weathered the storm of Yashin's drama and got better pieces in the trade. I mean honestly, just a couple of years later, who would give up Chara or Spezza for Yashin one for one, let alone as two pieces of a package?


And yeah, I was going for the contrast with him and Alfredsson. The photo seemed appropriate for that reason and the fact that Alfredsson took over the captaincy from Yashin (and did a much better job in the role).

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A superstar talent with a ten cent head, a perception of himself that he was Gretzky or some such. At one point he had a charity that he was donating money to in Ottawa that he pulled his backing from because they refused (rightly) to put his mother on the board in spite of all language barriers. Best forgotten.

Honestly, despite all the negativity surrounding Yashin. I think it will be difficult excluding him as a candidate among the best Ottawa players...

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Honestly, despite all the negativity surrounding Yashin. I think it will be difficult excluding him as a candidate among the best Ottawa players...


He'd be down the list a bit for me. I'd certainly have Alfredsson, Karlsson, and Spezza in front of him at a minimum. Other players that maybe weren't as skilled might be ahead of him too, simply because they made good contributions to the team and didn't create any drama. He'll make my all-time Senators team when that comes around, but I'd certainly have a few guys above him if I were ranking players.

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