Saturday, September 2, 2000
Alexei's last stand?
By BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun
Normally, Alexei Yashin is the one bringing people out of their
seats.But yesterday, Justice Douglas Cunningham did the honours for
him in Ontario Courtroom No. 35 on Elgin St.
Cunningham was surrounded by a bunch of legal eagles dressed in
their robes and gowns along with lawyers wearing dark suits, which
means it did resemble a hockey crowd at the Corel Centre. But Yashin
was nowhere to be found.
By the time the day had ended with a not-so-sizzling closing
argument from Yashin's lawyer, Fred Seller, the message was pretty
clear -- the Sens' holdout centre would rather play anywhere than
Ottawa this season.
With Yashin's parents Valery and Tatiana whispering quietly in
Russian in the back of the courtroom, Seller basically declared if
his client gets his right to restricted free agency, he'll sign with
a European club team this season.
Seller told Cunningham during his 75-minute submission that
independent arbitrator Lawrence Holden of Boston had no right to rule
that Yashin owed the club the final year of his $3.6- million US
Should Yashin get a favourable ruling from Cunningham, he'll simply
sign with the Swiss Elite League's Kloten Flyers until the Senators
trade his rights to somebody else or he gets a new contract.
"Holden's ruling says that Alexei Yashin can't play hockey anywhere
else in the world -- except Ottawa," said Seller. "It's important
that this matter is dealt with quickly because if it isn't, then it's
possible Alexei could miss out on opportunities in the AHL, IHL or
Europe. Especially Europe, where teams are settling their rosters
Yashin, 26, is taking a big gamble by taking this case before an
Ontario court, but it's worth a college try. Those in the know
believe he has nothing to lose by trying to gain his right to
restricted free agency.
However, Yashin and New Jersey-based agent Mark Gandler -- who's
still in Moscow on business -- are smart enough to know that even if
he does win his case, there isn't a team in the NHL that will sign
him this season.
Why? Because any team that signs Yashin will have to give up five
first-round draft picks if they meet his demands of more than $8-$10
million per season. Nobody can afford to pay that price.
Still, the war has come down to a battle of wills between Yashin and
Ottawa owner Rod Bryden. These two hate each other. They can both
deny it publicly, but bad blood exists on both sides and someone will
have to blink before it ends.
Talk has surfaced that if Yashin loses this ruling -- a definite
possibility -- then he'll give up the fight, walk into camp next
Saturday, play out his season and hope Bryden trades him next summer.
But Yashin's parents weren't giving any indication what their all-
star son might do once the verdict has been handed down. He is
training with Russian players in New Jersey this week and nobody
knows where he will go from there.
"It's difficult to say what might be next," said Tatiana, who
refused to speak to a group of reporters that chased her and Valery
down the street during lunch. "We speak with him by telephone and
he's enjoyng himself working out."
Yashin went into this war determined to get what he wants from the
Senators -- in the form of a new contract. But should he lose this
argument, there might not be many avenues left to take.
The one thing Yashin has enjoyed the most throughout his career is
playing hockey. He loves to play the game, is the last off the ice
after practice and wants to get back to competing in the NHL.
Should Cunningham's decision favour the Senators, then Yashin is
going to have to decide whether he wants to resume his career or try
to force a trade.
For now, though, Yashin's future is before the court.
He'd better hope Cunningham isn't a Senators fan.