Alexei Yashin: Ode to a buyout

Ray Stubblebine / Reuters

The New York Islanders had their own reason to celebrate when the Chicago Blackhawks lifted the Stanley Cup on Monday night, officially bringing an end to the 2014-15 NHL season.

That's because the end of the season also marked the end of Alexei Yashin's massive buyout, which has been on the Islanders' books for eight years. More than a financial burden, his buyout was a black eye from an era the franchise has all but erased from its roster and its end coincides with New York's possible emergence as a contender.

Yashin had a doomed relationship with the Islanders from the moment he arrived in Long Island in a draft-day trade that included sending Zdeno Chara and the draft pick that became Jason Spezza to the Ottawa Senators. It was a hefty price to pay for a troubled star and the trade only grew more lopsided in hindsight as Chara and Spezza became stars in Ottawa.

Yashin was one year removed from a contract dispute with the Senators that cost him an entire season, and he carried his well-documented behavioural issues with him to the Islanders. The 10-year, $87.5-million contract extension general manager Mike Milbury gave him only made matters worse.

Although Yashin recorded 32 goals and 75 points in his first season with the Islanders, nothing he did could counter the weight of expectation his contract (and trade price) carried with it. His production waned in subsequent seasons, leading to speculation his days with the team were numbered entering the 2006-07 campaign.

The Islanders bought out the remaining years of Yashin's contract for $17.63 million – two thirds of the remaining value – in June 2007 following an uninspiring postseason performance. He recorded 50 regular-season points despite suffering a knee injury that limited him to 58 games, but his demotion to the fourth line in the playoffs signalled the end of is time in New York.

Yashin returned to Russia after the Islanders bought him out and became one of the marquee names in the brand-new Kontinental Hockey League. He finished third in scoring in 2009-10 – the league's second season – as a 36-year-old before retiring two years later.

While New York's buyout payments to Yashin averaged around $2.2 million per season, the uneven structure of his contract meant the buyout's cap hit would fluctuate from year to year. The buyout peaked in 2010-11, when he carried the highest cap hit on the roster at $4.755 million, and he was the team's seventh-highest paid forward in the buyout's final year.

Without a replacement for Yashin (among other holes in the roster) the Islanders embarked on a five-season playoff drought, finally returning to the postseason in 2013 – a year after Yashin's final season in the KHL. Yashin was serving as general manager of Russia's national women's hockey team by that point.

The Islanders' post-Yashin ineptitude landed them John Tavares with the first overall selection in 2009, which marked the beginning of their turnaround. New York qualified for the postseason again in 2015 and the team will be able to spend to the cap next season when it moves to Brooklyn and tries to take the next step: winning a playoff series for the first time since 1993.

Alexei Yashin: Ode to a buyout
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