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Could Alexei Yashin really return to Isles?

7/26/2011

There is a tendency when considering the possible return of Alexei Yashin to feel a little like Alice down the rabbit hole.

Didn't the New York Islanders buy Yashin out of his contract?

Yes.

And aren't they still paying $2.2 million against the salary cap every year until the end of the 2014-15 season as a result of that buyout?

Yes.

And now they're talking about giving their former captain more money to come back while still paying him to stay away?

Yes.

And what's the deal with Bill the Lizard and the White Rabbit? Can they play the left wing lock?

Well, that's another story all together.

For all that is bewildering about the ongoing discussions between the New York Islanders and the big center, there is nothing about Yashin but the pragmatic.

In an interview with ESPN.com on Tuesday, Yashin was neither giddy about the possibility of returning to the NHL -- and specifically the New York Islanders -- nor was he distant.

He was merely matter-of-fact.

"I don't want to run in front of the situation," Yashin told ESPN.com.

And the situation is this:

After playing for four years in the Kontinental Hockey League, Yashin finds himself an unrestricted free agent. He has options in the Russian league. There are European elite leagues to consider. And, of course, the NHL.

While he has been demonized in some quarters of the hockey world -- he's still considered a pariah by many Ottawa Senators fans -- Yashin has always maintained about him an air of civility.

Even when answering criticism about his level of play, his contracts and his lack of success in the playoffs, Yashin has always appeared to maintain an aura of decorum.

Sometimes that decorum has been characterized, even misinterpreted, as being aloof.

Yashin will turn 38 in early November.

One assumes that however this turns out, this will be his last kick at the NHL can, if he gets a kick at all.

"The biggest thing that I have to do is get in shape," he said.

Yashin returned to the New York area, as he usually does at the end of the hockey season, and began working out earlier than he has in the past. He worked out locally in June, then went to Switzerland in early July to work out with some Russian players and coaches outside Zurich.

Some interest was indicated by the Islanders and the story has taken off from there, with the two sides continuing to talk.

Yashin acknowledged Tuesday that the possibility of his return -- not just to the NHL, but to the Islanders -- has caught the media's attention.

"I understand from a media standpoint it's a very juicy story, a lot of coverage," he said.

But this doesn't sound much like a man who is chomping at the bit to right past wrongs or prove doubters wrong. He does not sound like a man who is looking to atone for past sins, real or perceived.

Instead, he sounds very much like a man trying to figure out if this is a good place for him to be in the twilight of an often-polarizing career.

Whether you have a one-year deal or a 10-year deal, "you always want to be the best player you can possibly be in the that particular situation," Yashin said. "It's what I'm trying to do."

Is he concerned about facing NHL competition after a four-year absence?

He noted that Mark Recchi was still productive at age 43 last season, helping Boston win a Stanley Cup.

The man who succeeded him as captain in Ottawa, Daniel Alfredsson, is still playing.

Nicklas Lidstrom will return to the Detroit Red Wings at age 41.

"If you're talking about age, I think it's more important that it's the right situation and the right environment so you can perform," Yashin said.

"I feel confident about myself."

Which begs the question: Is Long Island such a place for Yashin?

The Isles have not qualified for the playoffs since Yashin was bought out, but they continue to stockpile an impressive corps of young players.

Where does Yashin fit into the Isles' puzzle? Does he fit at all?

If he is amused or entertained by the notion of returning to a team that found its previous contract with him untenable, he does not share those thoughts with the media. Former GM Mike Milbury's deal for Yashin cost the Islanders Zdeno Chara and a draft pick that became Jason Spezza, and still ranks as one of the worst deals of all time.

"Teams make decisions. Players make decisions," he said.

Four years ago, the Islanders decided to go in a different direction. So did he.

"Now maybe they're looking for a different approach," Yashin said.

"It might happen, but it might not happen. I can't really prepare for what might be ahead."

In the end, if it all falls together, why not?

"Because I always liked it here on Long Island," he said.

"If I can help, why not?"

Indeed.

Didn't someone ask that of Alice?