It was 20 years ago today that the New York Islanders made one of the worst trades in franchise history*. They sent the 2001 second-overall pick, Zdeno Chara, and Bill Muckalt to the Sens for Alexei Yashin.
(*I flip flop between the Luongo-Jokinnen trade and this one as the worst in franchise history.)
Marking the anniversary of the trade, The Athletic’s Ian Mendes (subscription required) re-lived the deal from a Senators perspective. As you can imagine, the trade was much better for the Sens and why Mendes titled the piece: “The story behind the Senators’ heist of Zdeno Chara and Jason Spezza for Alexei Yashin”.
In speaking to then Sens GM Marshall Johnston, you get the sense that the Islanders not only had the Senators over a barrel but could have got Yashing for much less.
The New York Islanders could have had Alexei Yashin for much less
So again, the Islanders sent the second overall pick at the 2001 draft, prospect Zdeno Chara, and veteran Bill Muckalt to the Senators. As Johnston would recall to Mendes, the Islanders retained 50% of Muckalt’s contract.
That’s a lot, but then again Yashin was a star player in the NHL. The Russian center was, on his day, a dominant player in the NHL. Such a return certainly seems fair when you look at Yashin’s stat sheet with the Sens; 491 points in 504 games.
But that’s without considering the Senators financial situation, the emotional situation between the club and the player, or considering the value of the prospect they were giving up.
- The Sens were heavily indebted at the time. Johnston revealed that there was no way Ottawa could re-sign their star player. Johnston stated there was “no way it [a contract] would be approved.” There was no way the Sens could keep Yashin. None.
- Yashin had sat out the 1999-2000 season hoping to get an improved contract. It didn’t work and it burned a lot of bridges with Senators management and teammates. Even if he came back he wouldn’t necessarily be welcomed back with open arms.
- The Senators desperately wanted Chara. Johnston, who had worked with the Isles as a scout, knew Chara’s quality. Recounting the history of the deal, Johnston said he’d have taken the second-overall in the second round if it meant he was getting Chara.*
- *The Islanders didn’t have their second-round pick at the time of the trade. They sent that to Tampa in 2000 to move up the 2000 draft. But Johnston’s sentiment is clear; he would have taken less than a second-overall if Chara was included.
Now consider that the Islanders were the only team left with an interest in Yashin. The Stars had pulled out the night before, leaving Mike Milbury in the driver’s seat. All of these factors should have brought down the price. Of course, that’s assuming Mike knew all of this. Which he should have.
Maybe he didn’t know how much Ottawa liked Chara, but he certainly knew of Yashin’s issues with the Sens, and the Senators perilous financial situation was also pretty well known at the time. I’m also sure Mike knew he was driving solo on the deal with no competition for Yashin.
The trade was already a bad one for the Islanders, even if Yashin had a few good years on the Island, but knowing it didn’t have to cost as much as it did hurts even more. They probably could have kept the second-overall pick that year and still bring in Yashin.
Oh, the possibilities of a 90 point center in Jason Spezza on the Island.