Inside The NHL

July 01, 2001

Alex the Grate
In another move that could backfire, the Islanders got brooding
star Alexei Yashin

Mike Milbury's phenomenally unsuccessful five-and-a-half-year
reign as Islanders general manager has been defined by a series
of misguided trades. Last weekend he moved more boldly than any
other general manager at the NHL draft, trading some of the
Islanders' promising youth for a pair of 27-year-old restricted
free agent centers--former Hart Trophy finalist Alexei Yashin of
the Senators and erstwhile first-liner Michael Peca of the
Sabres. The headline-grabbing acquisition of Yashin, whom Milbury
got for the No. 2 selection in last week's draft plus blossoming
24-year-old defenseman Zdeno Chara and solid 26-year-old winger
Bill Muckalt, bodes ominously for New York.

Yashin does bring exceptional scoring punch--his 40 goals and 88
points last season led the Senators--but he's also a somber
presence coming to a team that desperately needs an infusion of
light. Even during a stint as Ottawa's captain, Yashin was aloof
in the dressing room. He has also been involved in three
prolonged contract disputes, most infamously missing the
1999-2000 season while refusing to honor the final year of a
contract that would have paid him $3.6 million.

Milbury is notorious for his contentiousness in contract
negotiations, and he concedes that he's steeling himself for a
battle this summer with Yashin. "Everybody deserves a chance to
make some mistakes," Milbury says of Yashin's past. "God knows I
feel that way about my situation."

At least Yashin's uninspired play in recent postseasons--no goals
in his last eight playoff games--shouldn't hurt the Islanders. New
York has missed the playoffs every year under Milbury, and its
21-51-7-3 record last season was the worst in the NHL. Even with
Yashin, a 6'3" 225-pound pivotman with a rare blend of agility
and strength, the Islanders are a long shot to reach the
postseason. To get Peca, a former Selke Trophy winner, New York
gave up forwards Tim Connolly, 20, and Taylor Pyatt, 19, both
former first-round picks who were regulars last season for the
Islanders.

The loss of the 6'9", 255-pound Chara, who was the Islanders'
biggest hitter as well as an adept all-around blueliner, leaves
New York thin on defense. More worrisome, the Islanders are
relying on 19-year-old goalie Rick DiPietro, a top-tier talent
who appeared overmatched in going 3-15-1 as a rookie in 2000-01.
The Islanders depend on DiPietro only because last June, Milbury
traded 21-year-old Roberto Luongo, who has since shown signs of
becoming a franchise goalie for the Panthers, for a couple of
second-line forwards.

Supplemental Discipline Idea
Thug Does His Thing; Team Pays

There was no discussion of supplemental discipline at last week's
NHL board of governors meeting, but there should have been. With
the memory still fresh of Leafs forward Tie Domi's vicious elbow
to the head of Devils defenseman Scott Niedermayer in Game 4 of a
second-round series, the time is now for the league to make a
radical change in how it punishes players.

The image of Domi's blow hasn't faded for two reasons. First,
Domi recently said that he may appeal the remaining eight
regular-season games of his 11-match suspension. (He was banished
from Toronto's final three postseason matches.) Second, an
unsettling feeling exists around the league that justice wasn't
served by the penalty to Domi. Although New Jersey eliminated the
Leafs, the Devils were at a disadvantage for the final three
matches because Niedermayer, an All-Star-caliber defenseman, was
sidelined with a concussion. In Domi, Toronto lost only a role
player.

A more just punishment would have been to empower New Jersey to
select any Toronto skater to sit out the rest of the series.
Imagine if the Leafs had been forced to play without a top-line
forward like Mats Sundin or Gary Roberts. Then Toronto, not New
Jersey, would have been at a disadvantage, as the Leafs deserved
to be. To discourage gratuitous acts such as Domi's, the NHL and
the players' association should agree to this fairer system of
supplemental punishment.

"My concern [about this proposal] would be in punishing an
innocent player," says Colin Campbell, the league's chief
disciplinarian. While several general managers were intrigued by
the concept, others feared it would be too difficult to enforce.
"How bad does the hit have to be to give the team the choice?"
asked a G.M. "And who makes that decision?"

The subjectivity would be no greater than it already is in
Campbell's disciplinary decisions, which he makes on a
case-by-case basis. Campbell's concern about the proposed system
is understandable, but the provision would be rooted in an ethos
central to team sports: that the players' responsibility is to
the club, and that the team wins or loses as a group.

The proposed rule would lead coaches and star players to warn
reckless teammates against dirty play and would work as a
deterrent to the marginal players who commit so many of the worst
infractions. A tough system such as this may be the NHL's best
hope for keeping its most damaging incidents to a minimum.

Devils' Draft Prowess
Well-Armed And Dangerous

The most intimidating sight at the draft each year is Devils
general manager Lou Lamoriello poring over his notes while
flanked by director of scouting David Conte and Conte's
assistant, Claude Carrier. The trio has formed New Jersey's brain
trust since the late 1980s, during which time the Devils have
proved to be the best drafters in hockey. Perennial Stanley Cup
contender New Jersey was particularly aggressive last Saturday
when--thanks to deals made over the weekend--it owned six picks in
the first three rounds, more than any other team.

The Devils' selections included first-rounder Adrian Foster, a
highly skilled, 6-foot, 190-pound forward from Lethbridge,
Alberta, who missed most of the past three seasons because of
groin injuries. However, as a 16-year-old in juniors in 1998-99,
he had 32 points in 18 games. "With the number of picks we had,"
says Lamoriello, "we could take a chance on a guy with his
upside."

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Despite his offensive credentials, Yashin's demeanor could be a downer for the youthful Islanders. TWO COLOR PHOTOS: DAVID E. KLUTHO (2)

whom would you Rather Have?

C Pierre Turgeon
A former 50-goal scorer, the 6'1" 194-pounder averaged 27 goals
for the Blues over the past four seasons and, at 31, wants a
raise over last year's $5 million salary upon becoming an
unrestricted free agent on Sunday.

C Jeremy Roenick
A two-time 50-goal scorer, the 6-foot 205-pounder averaged 28
goals for the Coyotes over the past four seasons and, at 31,
wants a raise over last year's $5 million salary upon becoming an
unrestricted free agent on Sunday.

THE VERDICT: Turgeon's gritty, productive play in the postseason
over the past few years has increased his value, but our choice
would be the effervescent and more complete Roenick.

--K.K.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)