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Original Issue

Inside The NHL

Hold Out Longer
Ottawa must deal disgruntled star Alexei Yashin, but now's not
the time

Shed no tears for Senators holdout center Alexei Yashin, who
learned in late June that he still owes Ottawa a season of
service. An arbitrator ruled that Yashin, who refused to play in
1999-2000, the final season of his five-year, $13.5 million
contract with the Senators, had not fulfilled the terms of his
deal and thus did not qualify for restricted free agency as he
had hoped.

That Ottawa will eventually trade Yashin is clear; the question
is when. Publicly, the Senators have said they would welcome him
back. Meanwhile, roughly 20 of the 29 other NHL teams aren't
interested in him because of his contract demands, which are
reportedly in the $8 million-per-season range. Those teams that
might be interested in Yashin see no pressing need to make a
major trade in July and will be wary of giving up too much for a
player who has asked to have his contract renegotiated three
times in his six-year career.

Yashin, 26, is a highly skilled offensive player, a good setup
man and a deft finisher who in his last full NHL season,
1998-99, had 94 points (44 goals and 50 assists) and was a Hart
Trophy finalist. The two years before that he had respectable
72- and 75-point seasons. However, he struggled in his last
playoff series, going scoreless as heavily favored Ottawa was
swept by the Sabres in the opening round in '99. In fact, there
is nothing in Yashin's history to suggest that he can crank up
his play when it matters most.

In the NHL these days, teams give $8 million only to sure
things, such as Jaromir Jagr, Peter Forsberg and Paul
Kariya--players who finish in the top 10 in scoring season after
season. To ask any team to pay top dollar for Yashin after only
one breakout year is unreasonable.

No general manager is more supportive of Russian players than
the Blackhawks' Mike Smith, but amid rumors last month that
Chicago was trying to acquire Yashin, Smith said, "We're not in
the market for any grossly high-paid players or any player who
wants to become grossly high paid." Islanders owner Sanjay Kumar
also shot down speculation that Yashin was heading to the
Islanders, saying that he was not interested in a player who
treated a contract with such disregard.

The best strategy for Senators general manager Marshall Johnston
may be to wait. By December or January, when teams can better
gauge their shortcomings, their level of desperation--and their
interest in Yashin--may rise. One former general manager says
that Johnston should try to "create a market for him. Yashin is
one of the good players in the league, but the only way
[Johnston will] maximize his return is to create a competition
for him."

As for Yashin, who has not said whether he will end his holdout:
If he really wants out of Ottawa, he should return to the team,
play well and try to shed his reputation for selfishness.
Because in the brave new NHL world, the motto in executive
suites is caveat emptor: Buyer beware.

Still One of the Most Wanted
Kevin Stevens Returns

Coming off a three-goal season during which he was arrested for
unlawful possession of a controlled substance (he pleaded not
guilty and has a trial date next month) and missed the final
three months, part of which was spent in a rehabilitation
program, Kevin Stevens, 35, might have thought his career was
over. Not so. Stevens, a free agent left wing, became the
object of a bidding war among a half dozen teams, and last week
he signed a one-year, $600,000 contract with Philadelphia. The
main reason clubs were so eager to give the 13-year veteran a
second chance? On each of the four teams for which he has
played, Stevens has been enormously popular in the dressing room.

When news spread in January of Stevens's arrest in Collinsville,
Ill., there was an outpouring of support for him from the
biggest names in the sport, such as former teammates Wayne
Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. "I'm lucky," Stevens told SI last
week. "I have a lot of great friends in the game."

Those friends include a trio of Flyers: veterans Mark Recchi,
Ulf Samuelsson and Rick Tocchet, all of whom played with Stevens
in Pittsburgh. Lemieux, the Penguins' owner and a former
linemate of Stevens's, also expressed an interest in signing
him, as did the Oilers.

"When I got traded to Pittsburgh [in 1992], I instantly knew
where all the team's energy came from--Kevin Stevens," says
Tocchet. "Mario was a quiet leader who did it on the ice, so he
was ecstatic to have Kevin in the dressing room. Kevin provides
all-around energy, and if you're going to win in the NHL, you
have to have that."

Stevens, once the league's premier power forward, had 190 goals
between 1990-91 and '93-94, but in the last six seasons he
scored more than 15 only once (23, in '98-99). Philadelphia
believes, however, that he can step into one of its vacancies on
left wing and help strengthen the positive dressing-room
chemistry that developed in the Flyers' run to the Stanley Cup
semifinals last spring.

"I didn't think that I'd have all these teams calling," said
Stevens. "But for each team I had interest in, there was someone
on that club who knew me. They thought, He made a mistake, but
everybody makes mistakes. Obviously I hate what happened, but
I've got to deal with it, and I am dealing with it."

Gomez Makes a Special Delivery
Stanley Cup in Alaska

It was a homecoming for Devils center Scott Gomez last Friday
when he took the Stanley Cup to Anchorage, the first time in the
trophy's 107-year history that it had visited Alaska. In the
afternoon the chalice was placed on a dogsled and mushed on
wheels to the Delaney Park Strip, in downtown Anchorage. Before
that, Gomez was honored with a traditional Native blanket toss,
in which he lay down on a sealskin blanket and was hurled 20 feet
in the air by Native elders. The blanket toss is an honor
reserved for celebratory events. Gomez, who won the Calder Trophy
and the Stanley Cup last season, met the criterion.

"It was a neat feeling," Gomez says of being propelled skyward.
"You get the same feeling in your stomach that you do on a
roller coaster."

Afterward the Cup was also placed on the blanket, but for
display purposes only. "No, they didn't shoot it up in the air,"
Gomez says with a laugh. "That's how rumors get started. They
just put it in there to show it off."

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Despite his undeniable offensive skills, Yashin has not proved that he's an $8 million man.