Daniel Alfredsson may be the greatest player in Ottawa Senators history but he isn’t the franchise’s first superstar. That title goes to Russian centre Alexei Yashin, the very first draft pick in club history, who turns 47 today.
Looking back on Yashin’s tale in the city of Ottawa, it was a “Best of times, worst of times” kind of thing.
Yashin was chosen second overall by the expansion Senators in 1992. History shows now that he and fellow Russians Sergei Gonchar and Nikolai Khabibulin were the cream of that draft crop. On a horrible Sens’ team, Yashin managed 79 points as a rookie and continued to score at that pace for the next six seasons. He’s still the only Sens player to be nominated for the Hart Trophy as NHL Most Valuable Player and still sits 4th in franchise scoring.
On the other hand, Yashin’s contract disputes and holdouts were legendary. In 1999, Yashin had zero points as the Senators were swept in their first-round series against Buffalo. Instead of vowing to improve the following season, Yashin skipped 1999-00 completely, hoping to improve his paycheque. So Yashin was nowhere to be seen as the Senators entered the Battle of Ontario for the first time. The club didn’t wait for Yashin. While he moped, hoping the Sens would tear up his contract, the Sens happily handed over the captaincy to Alfredsson that season.
Yashin lost his bitter, year-long holdout battle and did return to honour the final year of his contract in 2000-01. He inspired no one with the statement, “I’m here because I can’t play hockey anywhere else in the world.” Yashin had fully alienated the fan base, even getting booed in some opposing rinks. To his credit, he had another great regular season (88 points) for Ottawa, but he was a no-show again in the playoffs (partially due to injury) as the Sens suffered another first-round sweep – this time against Toronto.
As talented he was, Yashin’s greatest value to the franchise probably came as a trade chip. In 1995, the Sens almost talked Detroit into sending an underachieving Steve Yzerman back to his hometown in Ottawa, with Yashin heading for Motown. That never materialized but, in 2001, the Sens found a deal that was almost as good. After that loss to Toronto, the Sens dealt Yashin to the Islanders that summer for defenceman Zdeno Chara, forward Bill Muckalt and the right to draft Jason Spezza second overall.
If Yashin had the chance to do things again, he probably would have done some things differently. But on the ice, he remains one of the most skilled players in franchise history. Here are a few of Yashin’s memorable moments.
1997: Setting up the winning goal to clinch Ottawa’s very first playoff spot:
1993: His 5 point night as a rookie: