With the New Jersey Devils already being the oldest team in the league (the only team whose average cracks 30), according to reports, it appears that they may be willing to go a little bit older, with a reclamation project of sorts, in signing free agent Alexei Yashin, a player who has actually been a free agent in NHL terms for the last five seasons, as he has been playing in Russia ever since he was bought out by his then-current team, the New York Islanders. Though his play was not terrible, he was accused of not trying his hardest on a perpetually mediocre squad, and because of the buyout, will actually still be receiving payment from the Islanders another next three seasons, to the sum of more than $2 million per year. With the Ottawa Senators earlier in his career, he had put up superstar numbers before leaving for Long Island due to a contract dispute. From there, his totals went nowhere but down, which led to his eventual demise. He is now 37 years old and coming off his worst Russian season since he embarked on the journey in 2007.
It would take only a desperate team to make a pitch for Yashin, and the Devils can be seen as such, having lost Zach Parise to the Minnesota Wild last month. With them appearing to have no intention in bringing back a comparable player in Petr Sykora, could Yashin be his replacement? Turtleneck sweater and susceptibility to criticism aside, for the right price this would not be a disastrous move, and since he is already making a nice amount of money, thanks to the Islanders, his demands would not be enormous. He has an excellent wrist shot, but would any NHL locker room want his kind of personality and only-show-up-when-I-want-to mentality around them? That is the million dollar question. There have been quite a few players like him, ironically most being Russian, who have/had all the talent in the world yet could somehow never achieve full potential—Alexander Semin, Alexei Kovalev and Nikolai Zherdev, to name some.
If the Devils have one thing, it would be a positive locker room. Could Yashin be that one “killer” that every coach dreads? Or will his ability to score around 20 goals and 40-50 points at an economical price be too much for a cash-strapped Lou Lamoriello to ignore? The Devils would face a brunt of criticism and be the subject of jokes immediately after signing such a player, and one of two outcomes will be available for us to discuss at the end of next season: 1) “There’s that genius Lou again. Took a washed up veteran, threw him on the Devils, and there he went, off to a decent season.” Or 2) “Yet another move from senile Lou, signing a disaster in the making when we could have seen some prospect develop instead. Time for the guy to retire already.” Which one is most likely? If I’m the Devils, given their situation, I would have to pass on Yashin. There is no reward too great for the risk they would take. I do not know of any forwards in the system who could come up and help, and in the absence of Parise, it would not matter, because a player like that cannot be replaced. But as the oldest team in the league, and one that still has to forfeit a draft pick in the coming seasons, the time to get the tires fully rolling on the future is now.
Fans may not want to admit it, but acquiring Yashin would be the final nail in the coffin of proof that the Devils have become the team they have mocked for so long: a Rangers team during the early 2000’s that loaded up on old has-beens. Since the lockout, we’ve seen failures at attempts to reclaim past glory: Brian Rolston, Bobby Holik, Brendan Shanahan, and a lucky success in Petr Sykora. Will Yashin be the latest, or will they prove they are ready to move on?