There was a time when Alexei Yashin was one of the most dangerous players in hockey. Not recently, mind you, but there was a time. But as any Rangers or Devils fan can probably remind you, the New York Islanders were still paying the Russian center, despite buying out his contract in 2007.
As gloriously detailed by Lighthouse Hockey, Yashin’s albatross contract haunted the Isles until Chicago hoisted the Stanley Cup last night, which put an end to the 2014-15 NHL season.
Like most things that have gone wrong with the Islanders, the Yashin debacle – including the trade that brought him to New York in exchange for Zdeno Chara and a pick that Ottawa used on Jason Spezza – can be attributed to former GM ‘Mad’ Mike Milbury. Yashin was given a 10-year, $87.5 million contract upon his arrival, but could never get the Isles past the first round of the playoffs before being bought out by new GM Garth Snow in 2007.
Instead of dwelling on New York’s past disfunction however, let’s instead use the franchise’s Yashin Liberation Day to look at the job Snow has done since taking over.
His hiring was widely ridiculed at the time, since he was literally New York’s backup goaltender the season prior. But look at the Islanders’ roster today and you’ll see a whole lot of promise and a team that could have made a decent playoff run had top defenseman Travis Hamonic not missed their first-round series against Washington due to injury.
When Yashin was bought out for example, only two current Islanders were even in the league: Lubomir Visnovsky and Eric Boulton.
Snow has built his team through the draft, nabbing phenom John Tavares first overall in 2009, but also hitting on players such as Hamonic, Casey Cizikas, Brock Nelson and Anders Lee. With blue-chippers such as Ryan Strome, Griffin Reinhart and Michael Dal Colle either starting to break through in the NHL or on the right path towards it, New York has a wealth of talent.
And when Boston and Chicago were desperate for cap space this summer, Snow pounced – landing Nick Leddy from the Hawks and Johnny Boychuk from the Bruins. Not only did he bolster his own team’s defense corps, but he also wrecked Boston’s blueline in the process, since injuries plagued the Bruins back end this year and that team ended up missing the playoffs by three points (Pittsburgh held the tiebreaker).
So Snow had himself a pretty good year, even if it ended a little quicker than many had hoped. Next year, the Islanders will play out of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and once again expectations should be high. The end of the Yashin buyout seems like a bit of a psychological exorcism for the franchise, so maybe next season will contain a return to glory.
Just ignore the fact they’re still paying goalie Rick DiPietro until 2029.