KHL All-Star Alexei Yashin: On Evgeni Nabokov, Islanders and His Future
"Garth Snow called me when they were thinking of picking up Nabby on waivers," Yashin said of the Islanders general manager. "He wanted to know what I thought of Nabby and his play over the years in the NHL and in the KHL this season. Nabby's a great guy and has been a great goalie for a long time. I just expressed my opinion that his performance would be a positive for the Islanders."
The team acquired Nabokov off the waiver wire, but the goalie has declined to report to the Islanders. He signed a contract with the Detroit Red Wings for the remainder of this season because he wanted to play for a contender. The Islanders are currently in 29th place in the NHL and 18 points behind eighth-place Atlanta for the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
Although he vouched for the talent of his friend to the Islanders, Yashin has so far chosen to not get involved any further. The former Islanders captain enjoyed his time in New York, but he hasn't felt it is his place to contact Nabokov and sell him on the franchise.
"I haven't called Nabby," said the native of Russia, whose Team Yashin faces off against Team Jagr in the KHL All-Star Game on Saturday. "I don't know all of the issues that went into his decision. I feel like it's his call and people on the outside like myself should not get involved. I went through something a little similar when I chose to not play for the Ottawa Senators when I still had a year left on my contract. There were a lot of factors that people did not know about. I didn't think it was right to call Nabby and try and tell him what I think he should do."
If the Islanders suspend Nabokov for the rest of the season, the NHL could toll the contract and rule that the goaltender still owes the Islanders the one season. Asked if he would consider speaking with Nabokov about the Islanders in the summer, Yashin said, "I don't know. Let's see how it plays out. If Nabby has questions about the team or Long Island, of course I would happy to tell him all about it."
Although the Islanders bought Yashin out of his contract in the offseason of 2007, he would provide a positive reference. He maintains a very close relationship with Islanders owner Charles Wang, visiting with him in the KHL offseason when he returns to New York.
"Last season, we had a long break in the KHL and I came back to New York," said Yashin, whose life partner of 11 years, model and actress Carol Alt, is a Long Island native. "Charles called and invited us back to the Nassau Coliseum for an Islanders game against Nashville. We sat in the suite and had a really nice time. It was great to see the Islanders again."
He is enjoying his time in the KHL, playing in St. Petersburg with his friend Maxim Afinogenov and on a line with former Islanders wing Mattias Weinhandl. He is looking forward to being a captain for his second consecutive KHL All-Star Game. "The fan support is incredible here," he said. "There is a special energy." Yashin was thrilled when his hero Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier attended last year's KHL All-Star Game. He invited Wang to this year's event, but the Islanders owner's schedule prevented him from being able to make the trip to Russia.
Yashin is in the last year of his contract with St. Petersburg SKA. "I'm 37 years old and an unrestricted free agent," he said with a laugh. He said he still loves playing the game and hopes to for at least a few more years. "Look at Mark Recchi and Nicklas Lidstrom and Teemu Selanne," said Yashin. "I have so much respect for what they have accomplished in the NHL for so long."
He said he has no regrets about his time with the Islanders, only that he couldn't help the franchise achieve more success.
"I was proud of being there when we started to turn the Islanders around in 2001," said Yashin. "In my five seasons there, we made the playoffs four years. That's pretty good, but it's not enough. I wished we developed into more of a success, but I only have positive things to say about the Islanders, Long Island, the fans and ownership. I still root for the Islanders."
There was even a discussion, however preliminary, about the possibility of Yashin playing more games in an Islanders uniform.
"About two years ago, we were talking to the Islanders," Yashin revealed. "The idea was about what it would take for me to join them late in the year and for the playoffs after my season in the KHL.The Islanders didn't make the playoffs and the idea didn't go any further.
"Let's face it, that's a long shot. A lot of things would have to work out and there would be the contract and the waiver process like Nabby had to go through. It's very complicated and I don't know if we could have pulled it off. Still, it was flattering to hear from them."