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Yashin's uninspired play adds to his sad legacy

The enlarged newspaper clipping is pasted on the wall just above Alexei Yashin's locker stall in the New York Islanders' dressing room. The headline reads "Birth of a Franchise: December 30, 1971 Roy Boe Brings NHL Franchise to Long Island for $6 million."

In that sense, Yashin literally has the money hanging over his head.

It hasn't changed since 2001, when he arrived via trade and signed a 10-year contract worth $90 million, still the highest total amount in NHL history. The Isles hoped he would become one of their all-time players but instead he's evolved into an all-time underachiever, Exhibit A of the league's near-fatal spending habits.

The Buffalo Sabres' 3-2 victory over the Islanders in Game Three was just the latest stage in which Yashin would disappear, this time at home. The Isles could very well be leading the best-of-seven series if they were getting anything from their highest-paid player and captain.

"I don't want to talk about that," Yashin said in monotone after the game. "It's not about me. I tried to do the best with the ice time that I had. I will continue to do that and help wherever I can to help the team win the next game."

Well, it should be about him.

No wonder Ted Nolan parked him on the bench in Game Two and kicked him down to the fourth line in Game Three. Yashin is a gracious enough guy, but to say he's less passionate than a drone would be insulting the entire bee family.

Yashin had a chance to give the Islanders the key first goal Monday night but failed to bear down and lift the puck over Ryan Miller. He had a giveaway in the third period while attempting a lazy pass with his team trailing by a goal. His aw-shucks response was hardly inspiring. Later, he fanned on a shot that would have tied the game. Darn.

Here's what the Islanders have received so far from their so-called captain in three games: no points and three shots. Sabres' co-captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere have combined for three goals and six points on 17 shots. Is it me or should the Islanders be expecting a tad more?

"There's high expectations for anybody," goalie Rick DiPietro said. "It's almost comparable to a guy like Jeter or A-Rod. When you're the marquee guy, there's going to be expectations. In New York, you've got to either perform or you're going to know about it. It would be tough on anybody to handle that pressure."

For all the mistakes former Isles General Manager Mike Milbury made during his tenure -- where do we begin? -- trading for Yashin is the biggest blunder in franchise history. New York gave up top-ticket defenseman Zdeno Chara and a first-round pick that ended up being Jason Spezza.

And for what?

Yashin has 11 goals, 27 points and is minus-16 in 46 career playoff games. Rather than play to expectations, Yashin performed the way his critics expect from a player who has advanced past the first round once in his career.

Listless performances in Buffalo landed him in Nolan's doghouse. Nolan exiled his captain to a wing position on the grunt line where he played with Richard Park and Andy Hilbert for 10 uneventful minutes Monday.

"There's no one guy bigger than the team," Nolan said. "Everybody's part of it and everybody's got to take responsibility and have to be accountable for their play. Yashin's no different from Andy Hilbert, and Andy Hilbert's no different from Ryan Smyth."

Fair enough, but if one player doesn't hold higher status, then why does Yashin remain captain? He couldn't lead a marching band if someone handed him a baton. The fact Nolan downplayed his decision to take away Yashin's ice time merely confirmed the forward's insignificance.

Coaches don't bench captains for short-term effect without assessing the potential for long-term damage. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff's exit from the Sabres as a player came when he, as captain, demanded a trade after Ted Sator benched him in 1989.

In truth, making Yashin captain wasn't Nolan's call. Isles owner Charles Wang made the decision, just as he did to hire Nolan. It's not going to change with four years and $26.45 million remaining on a contract already chopped by 24 percent under the collective bargaining agreement.

Yes, it eventually goes back to the money. The contract makes him nearly impossible to trade. Yashin lost one year on the deal because of the lockout. New York could buy out the final four for $17.6 million, freeing up salary-cap room for much-needed depth. In the land of $12 cheeseburgers and $7 beers, it's hardly going to give Wang the short stack at the NHL poker table.

But it's nearly triple the amount the founding owner paid for the franchise. The reminder is right there, hanging over Yashin's head.

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com

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