When the Islanders acquired both Michael Peca and Alexei Yashin on consecutive days surrounding the 2001 entry draft, it signaled the dawning of a new era for the franchise. Despite paying the high price of Zdeno Chara and the draft pick that would eventually be used to select Jason Spezza (as well as throw-in Bill Muckalt) in return for Yashin, initial reactions were positive, as were the early results. The Islanders had a wonderful regular season, made the playoffs for the first time in 7 years, and Yashin put up 32 goals and 75 points in 78 games. More importantly, it seemed, was Yashin's solid contribution of 7 points in a hard fought, 7-game, first round loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. It truly seemed as though the franchise was headed in the right direction, after so many years of futility.
The team never took the next step after that magical 2001-02 season and, coincidingly, Yashin's production lagged. A rumored split in the locker room led to the trade of Michael Peca before the '05-'06 season and the captaincy of the team was handed to Yashin, leaving many fans wondering why that was ever even an option.
A captain, to me, represents the team. A captain is THE leader, on and off the ice. A captain shows others, especially young players, how members of THIS team are expected to carry themselves. A captain has to be willing to lay it all on the line. That said, Alexei Yashin and "captain" should never have been mentioned in the same sentence.
To be fair, after a setback in '05-'06, the Islanders (captained, of course, by Yashin) made the playoffs again this season for the fourth time in five years, but Yashin's contributions were negligible, especially his 0 points in 5 playoff games. While the Buffalo Sabres were heavily favored, and rightly so, you have to be able to expect more from your captain. Yashin gave next-to-nothing, as has all-too-often become the case during his tenure on Long Island.
Could simply stripping Yashin of the "C" be the answer? Not anymore. The wait-and-see approach has been the attitude of Islander fans toward Yashin for far too long now and his negative legacy has already been set in stone. After having a guy like Ryan Smyth, true captain material, on the Island for the latter part of the season, the decision has never been easier.
Yashin, quite frankly, needs to be bought out. Cut dead wood. Trim the fat. Addition by subtraction. Every one of these cliches directly applies at this point, especially when the money saved by sending Yashin packing would help immensely in re-signing key unrestricted free agents such as Smyth and Jason Blake.
Ted Nolan gave it a whirl with Yashin in the "starring role," but even Nolan couldn't work his magic with Captain Cancer. Nolan got the most out of another enigma in Viktor Kozlov right in front of Yashin's eyes. The team fought hard and got into the playoffs in a season full of obstacles, Yashin's effort and injuries included. In order to take the next step, because just "getting in" is by no means good enough any longer, Alexei Yashin's time as an Islander simply has to come to an end.
If there's one thing Ryan Smyth's brief time on the Island SHOULD have shown the Islanders, whether he stays or not, it's what a true leader is made of. They've had the antithesis for far too long now and it's time to move on.