And, in the end, after making us sweat it out for a couple of months, they got it right!
Alexei Yashin’s tumultuous tenure as captain of the New York Islanders has finally come to an end. Whatever sales pitch Ted Nolan and Garth Snow threw at Charles Wang worked, though it must have been a tough decision for the Islanders owner. Regardless, as I have written in previous columns, it was a decision that had to be made if the team had ever hoped to take that next step.
While Yashin’s exit does not by any means guarantee the returns of pending unrestricted free agents Jason Blake and/or Ryan Smyth, it most certainly was, at least, a prerequisite for the latter. Smyth didn’t exactly call out Yashin after the Islanders fell to Buffalo in the first round of this year’s playoffs, but his words screamed Yashin up and down.
“There were too many guys tonight who didn't leave everything they had on the ice.”
Yep, that’s Yashin alright!
Thankfully, for me anyway, the Yashin debate ends here. I’ve spent far too much time, energy, and breath on the subject and, quite frankly, never did find a formidable opponent to argue for Yashin. (Did one ever exist? Hmm, guess it wasn’t much of a debate then, eh?)
The fact that this took so long, however, leads me to believe that, despite the obvious lack of success in trying to jam the square Yashin into the circle hole as Isles’ captain, what kept him around (yes, even more than the mammoth contract) was his relationship with Wang. Because of that, I empathize with Mr. Wang. He is most certainly loyal, probably to a fault. (See Milbury, M.) And it is never easy severing a business relationship with a friend. I’m sure many of us, myself included, can relate to that situation, at least a little.
As for Yashin, at this point, no hard feelings, right? By all accounts, he’s a decent guy. He’s been both courteous and generous with fans over the years and there are certainly many players in all sports who could learn something from Yashin there. I’ve been vigilant in my descriptions of him with monikers like, “Captain Cancer,” and, “The Craptain,” which may or may not have been fair. But my hard stance on Yashin was cemented after a game here in Tampa on March 20, 2007.
Through a chance encounter with some associates of Arron Asham, my wife and I got the opportunity to meet with many of the Islanders as they left the locker room after the game that night. It was a hard-fought contest that saw the Isles fall in overtime at a time when their playoff fight appeared to be a losing effort. A lifelong Islander fan, I was obviously excited to shake hands and chat with members of the team. My excitement quickly turned to disdain as the first player out of the room, showered, dressed, and headed for the bus, was indeed Yashin. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I extended my hand, offered a, “Hang in there, Yash,” and received a left-handed handshake and a quick, muffled, “Thanks,” before he sped through the lobby and out of the arena. He couldn’t possibly have exited any quicker. A tight, end-to-end, chippy loss in the midst of battling for their playoff lives and the captain, of all people, virtually runs from the room, by far the first one out.
As he exits, I suppose there really is no lingering ill will toward Yashin. He had his moments, too few and far between to remember in detail, on the Island. One can only hope his departure helps to open the door for the returns of Smyth and Blake, Tom Poti and, perhaps, the arrival of other key cogs for future success.
Let’s hope any remnants of Yashin exit with him just as quickly as he left the locker room that night here in Tampa.