Yashin traded for Spezza

By Jake Dole
After two years of controversy, the Ottawa Senators finally shipped the disgruntled Russian center Alexei Yashin to the New York Islanders on draft day, in return for a package including Jason Spezza. The trade put an end to Yashin’s troubled nine-year stay in the nation’s capital. As soon as the news came out, the fans gave out a sigh of relief, uttering “good riddance” about his departure.

It is interesting to point out that both teams received intriguing packages in return. Ottawa, unable to afford Yashin’s estimated $8-10 million a year, received a top prospect, a third-line winger and a physical defenseman. The Islanders now have the services of a proven 40-goal 90-point center, which could foreshadow the franchises first playoff birth in years.

Ottawa, Canada – A lot of excitement has spread over the capital’s hockey community. The trade of Alexei Yashin was a win-win situation for the team, as well as for the fans. Jason Spezza, thus far, seems to be a perfect fit in the community. He’s made appearances on radio, televison; gave interviews and completed practices in front of excited crowds of fans. Spezza’s poster boy style has already won over the city, bringing back memories of the younger Yashin being treated like a king in his early days in Ottawa. He is a great interview; he talks to the media with great confidence and ease. Comparisons to players like Mario Lemieux and, to a lesser extent, Jason Allison have only added to the excitement.

Although it might be too early to predict Spezza’s future in the NHL, the Senators seem to be confident that they’ve picked up a gem. Another reason for the fans to be excited is Spezza’s apparent enthusiasm about playing in Ottawa. A native of Etobicoke, Ontario, Jason has publically said that playing in Canada is a dream come true. Therefore, the change in the atmosphere is dramatic. Yashin, definitely wanted out of Ottawa; his relationship with the media was not great, although he was his usual cool self most of the time. The major difference, however, looks to be Mark Gandler making his way out of Ottawa, and hopefully out of the local papers. The new agent to deal with is Bobby Orr, who thus far has had nothing but praise for the 18-year old Spezza.

There is no doubt that, as of now, Jason Spezza cannot offer similar production as Yashin. At 18, he is still a prospect and therefore a project. Jason has made it clear to the media, however, that he intends to play with the big boys next year. With the Senators somewhat depleted down the middle, the fans might catch the best of Spezza at the Corel centre as early as October. Sens GM Marshall Johnston has indicated that Spezza will get a shot at a roster spot, just like Marian Hossa and Martin Havlat did at an earlier age. Rumors remain, however, that the Senators are planning to add another body to the roster, preferably a center. A name that has been mentioned is Adam Oates, an aging playmaker who would make a major difference right away, whether it is on the ice or off of it. Nonetheless, with the Sens’ budget, it remains to be seen whether they can afford a name of such profile. If the Sens do make a pick-up, expect Jason Spezza’s name to be bumped off the team’s roster.

The media in Ottawa, has responded very well to the draft day trade. Many writers have indicated that the Sens have “stole” one from the Isles. This in spite of the fact that the Isles media seems to have a completely opposite view on the matter. However, instead of debating on who the winner of the sweepstakes is, it is easy to look at both teams last year and safely conclude that both are winners. The Yashin situation is becoming a thing of the past in Ottawa, meanwhile on Long Island, the Isles GM Mike Milbury has been praised for acquiring Yashin without trading away any of his valuable young players (Pyatt, Isbister, Connoly, Torres are some of the examples). However, the praise did not last as long, as Milbury gave up an iffy package in return for another disgruntled center named Mike Peca.

The Senators completed what looked like one of the franchises most successful drafts in history. After getting Spezza at #2 overall, Ottawa drafted another multi-talented youngster named Tim Gleason later in the first round. In order to get him, the Senators traded up, by switching the picks with the Philadelphia Flyers. As it turns out, they wound up at #23 instead of #27, and drafted the man they highly coveted. Expected by many to go between #10 and #20, Gleason is praised for his skating, puck-handling ability, and hard-nosed style. Needless to say, this pick might serve the Sens just as well in the future as the Jason Spezza pick. Right now, both Spezza and Gleason are popular celebrities in the city, and have been seen participating in several societal events and hockey practices.

At the draft the Sens acquired skill (Spezza, Gleason namely), grit (Gleason, Muckalt, Chara), and some experience (Muckalt namely), although not a whole lot. The franchise did as well as they possibly could have; even though it took them two years to deal Yashin, Ottawa received a good package, despite many people’s beliefs that Yashin’s stock had fallen.

We will have a greater idea sometime later on whether these teams indeed succeeded this summer. Both teams are clearly different than ever before. Ottawa got younger and the jury is still out whether this team can win a playoff round with or without Yashin. The Islanders got older, but the major goal will be simply making the playoffs, unlike Ottawa, where the fans have learned that whatever happens until that, matters little.