Alex the Grate
The return of unrepentant Alexei Yashin has given Ottawa a big
Last Friday, Senators center Alexei Yashin sat at his locker
answering a series of if-you-were-a-tree-what-kind-would-you-be?
questions from an Ottawa reporter. "If you had an ordinary day
job, what would you do?" the reporter asked. Yashin, 27, paused
and then squinted in puzzlement. "What do you mean?" he asked.
"For me, hockey is an ordinary day job."
Ordinary? The interview took place three days after Yashin had
been harshly booed in a home game against the Maple Leafs. It was
one day after he'd had a dominant nine-shot performance in a 6-5
win over the Rangers. It was the day before his third-period
assist helped secure a 2-2 tie with the Blue Jackets, raising his
point total to 15 and running the Senators' record to 8-1-4, best
in the Eastern Conference.
No player this season has inspired more emotional reactions than
has Yashin. Powerful public resentment over his seasonlong
holdout in 1999-2000 has been offset by admiration for the skill
level at which the unrepentant Yashin has played through the
controversy. "I don't want to change what people think of me," he
says. "They have their opinions, I have mine. It doesn't matter.
I just play."
Coming off an MVP-caliber, 94-point season in 1998-99 and
seeking to have his $3.6 million salary more than doubled,
Yashin refused to play out the last year of his contract--a
desertion that may have cost the talented Senators a chance at
the Stanley Cup. After Ottawa lost to the Maple Leafs in the
first round of the 2000 playoffs, Yashin hoped an arbitrator
would declare him a free agent. The Senators argued that he
still owed them a year of service. In May, the arbitrator ruled
for Ottawa, and after the Ontario Superior Court upheld that
decision on Sept. 5, Yashin returned to the Senators. "I won't
apologize," he said then. "The arbitrator's decision compelled
me to come back to Ottawa, [and] I will do my best."
Senators fans called Yashin a "piece of poison" and a "cuss,"
among other things, in e-mail to the team's website. In the
preseason he was booed everywhere from Halifax to Vancouver, and
on opening night at the Corel Centre the jeering was relentless.
"I'd have thought that kind of booing would bother him," says
Ottawa center Radek Bonk, "but if it did, he never showed it."
Bonk and the rest of the Senators have welcomed Yashin back not
least because, as left wing Shawn McEachern says, "We want to
win, and Yash helps us do that." Yashin's mix of speed, strength
and savvy enhances a fabulous group of forwards that includes
dynamic right wing Marian Hossa (a team-high 20 points through
With the Senators'--and Yashin's--eye-popping early success, the
boos have begun to wane in Ottawa, yet contempt awaits Yashin on
the road. Last week Flyers general manager Bob Clarke called
Yashin "an ass" for having held out. That's not likely to shake
Yashin, whose demeanor at the rink is unchanged from before the
holdout: He remains a quiet, somewhat distant man who is very,
very good at his day job.
Some Very Puckish Kids
Don't be alarmed, but some unfamiliar faces are lurking behind
NHL masks. Through Sunday, 13 teams had played a rookie in goal
this season, and even more striking was the fact that the
first-year netminders on the Blues, Avalanche, Coyotes and
Sharks--the league's top four teams in goaltending
performance--had gone a combined 17-1-2. "I don't know if there
have ever been more good goalies coming into the league than
there are now," says Red Wings general manager Ken Holland.
Injuries have forced the Sharks' Evgeni Nabokov (7-1-1), the
Senators' Jani Hurme (5-1-3) and the Bruins' Andrew Raycroft
(3-5-0) into starting roles. Several other teams with Cup hopes
have entrusted backup positions to rookies, including the
Avalanche (David Aebischer), Blues (Brent Johnson) and Stars
(Marty Turco). While cost cutting is a factor in most cases--the
rookies tend to earn about $400,000 less than veteran backups--a
more salient reason is the skill level that Holland refers to.
The highly regarded Johnson, for example, makes about $1.1
million, a lot more than St. Louis would have spent on an
experienced backup. Johnson, 23, beat out veteran Dwayne Roloson
in the preseason and at week's end had gone 5-0-0 behind
30-year-old first-stringer Roman Turek. The Blues like having a
young goalie with No. 1 potential developing in the NHL.
So do the Avalanche. "I'm not concerned about having a rookie in
that spot," says Colorado general manager Pierre Lacroix, who
recalls rookie Patrick Roy's leading the Canadiens to the
Stanley Cup in 1986. "We're as confident having David Aebischer
as a backup as we would be with a second-string goalie who's 33."
Good Things Come in Twos
Twins Are the Rage
The Canucks' rosy-cheeked 20-year-old rookies, Daniel and Henrik
Sedin, may be the NHL's twin sensation, but they're hardly the
only former wombmates to arrive on the NHL scene over the last
year. During the Stanley Cup finals fans saw double when Devils
goalie Martin Brodeur's fair-haired four-year-olds, Jeremy and
William, came to games to cheer Dad and often were the focus of
TV cameras. More recently the wives of Avalanche center Joe Sakic
and Stars forward Jere Lehtinen gave birth to twins, while the
wife of Kings winger Nelson Emerson is expecting a pair in March.
"Tell them that twins are twice as much fun, twice as much work,"
says Blackhawks enforcer Bob Probert, whose wife, Dani, delivered
daughter Declyn and son Jack on May 2. "My kids aren't as good as
the Sedins, but they're learning. If I put a teddy bear on the
floor, they both scramble over to pick it up. Usually my little
girl grabs it first. Then she bonks my son on the head with it."
For the latest scores and stats, plus more news and analysis from
Michael Farber and Kostya Kennedy, go to cnnsi.com/hockey.
COLOR PHOTO: GERRY THOMAS After missing last season in a contract dispute, Yashin has led the Senators to the top of the East.
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: TIM DEFRISCO
WHOM WOULD YOU RATHER HAVE?
Traded from Colorado in June, the 6'3" 205-pounder recently
signed a five-year, $25.5 million deal. A fabulous playmaker and
four-time All-Star, his 10 points at week's end gave him 379 in
519 career games.
The anchor of Colorado's defense, the 6'2" 215-pounder recently
signed a four-year, $17 million extension. A mobile and
intimidating presence, his nine points so far this season gave
him 140 in 572 career games.
The Verdict: The Wizard of Oz makes plays that lift fans from
their seats, but our choice is Foote, whose D frees others to