Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NHL [Print without images]

Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Yashin talks big money, big fans, big questions

By David Amber
Special to ESPN.com

After the New York Islanders missed the playoffs again last season, Alexei Yashin is again on the hot seat.

Alexei Yashin
Yashin

In this week's Facing Off, the Islanders captain tells us what it's like to face angry fans on Long Island, why former teammate Alexander Daigle fizzled in the NHL and how Yashin's famous girlfriend is more than just a pretty face.

Question from David Amber: When you look back at your draft year and you see that so many talented Russians were picked that same year, [Nikolai Khabibulin, Sergei Gonchar, Valeri Bure, Darius Kasparaitis], did that make for an easier transition to the NHL?

Answer from Alexei Yashin: It's hard to say. My situation was a little easier because my family came over from Russia with me. My parents and my brother were all with me when I broke into the NHL, so that helped a lot. I even lived at home for the first few years so I had a lot of support around me. The biggest thing was I had great teammates as a rookie; they helped me adjust quickly to the North American lifestyle and the hockey style.

Q: Who is your best friend in the league?

A: I have lots of good friends, especially Kasparaitis, Victor Kozlov, Ruslan Salei, Maxim Afinogenov, Alexei Kovalev. A lot of Russian players, we have all played together and we keep in touch throughout the year. It's funny because every time I play Kasparaitis, he tries to hit me through the boards, but after the game, we laugh and are good friends.

Fast Facts -- Alexei Yashin
• He was selected by the Ottawa Senators in the first round (second overall) in the 1992 entry draft.

• As a rookie, he scored the game-winning goal in the 1994 All-Star Game.

• In 1998-99, he was the runner up for both the Hart Trophy (MVP) and Maurice Richard Trophy (most goals).

• At the 2001 draft, he was traded by Ottawa to the New York Islanders for the second overall pick (Jason Spezza), Zdeno Chara and Bill Muckalt.

• In 12 NHL seasons, he has led his team in goals (eight times) and points (nine times).

• He sat out the entire 1999-2000 season in a contract dispute with the Senators.

• He played for Russia at the 1998, 2002 and 2006 Olympics.

Q: You are the first Russian-born player to be named a full-time captain in the NHL. What does that distinction mean to you?

A: To be captain of a team makes me really proud, but at the same time, it's a lot of responsibility. When the team is playing well, it's so much easier; but when the team is struggling, it's tough because everyone is looking at you and expecting you to do something to change the course of the team. I just try to be myself and keep my cool, that's all you can really do.

Q: You have been a captain for both the Senators and the Islanders. What kind of captain are you? If a player is struggling, do you talk to him or are you more of a quiet leader?

A: The biggest thing is leading by example on the ice, because when you do something good for the team, that's when you get respect. It's very hard to get respect, especially in the NHL, by screaming at guys if you can't do anything by yourself. I try to help my teammates to be successful, especially last year, when it was tough to get wins. I try to stay positive and help guys grow and be better players.

Q: You and former No. 1 overall pick Alexander Daigle both entered the NHL in the 1993-94 season and were expected to evolve into the best 1-2 punch in the league. What went wrong with Daigle?

A: It's hard to say because he had all the skills, he was one of the fastest guys in the league and he had a great shot, he played really well the first few years. I think injuries really hurt him. He hurt his elbow and his arm. It's really tough when there is a lot of pressure on you to do well. That's when you need people around you to give you support.

Q: What did you think when Daigle was given that unprecedented rookie contract by the Senators, more money than you were making at the time?

A: I see it as every contract they sign, they earn it. People don't give money away for nothing. What I mean is, it's not all about the contract; for some teams, it's about developing a good atmosphere around the guy so he can feel comfortable and they can live up to expectations. Every player that signs a big contract has talent and the ability to do well, so the team often wants to put that guy in the best position to succeed.

Q: Because of your earlier contract holdouts, you have been vilified in Ottawa. If you could change anything about that situation, what would it be?

A: I would have liked to have made that situation work. I think when two parties want to make something happen, they can, but we were so far apart, there was nothing we could do. Things just went too far and then it got ugly. It was a tough time.

Q: You spent eight years in Ottawa. What was the highlight there for you?

A: The first time we made the playoffs was great. I remember we had to beat Buffalo in the last game of the season to make the playoffs. If we lost, we would be eliminated from playoff contention; if we tied, we needed help from Montreal. It was an exciting game. We scored with like three minutes left in the game to win the game 1-0. That was incredible.

Q: You left Ottawa amid some controversy and then you come here to Long Island. Islanders fans are known to be some of the toughest in hockey. What do you think of them?

A: It is kind of weird, I have to be honest. The first year I came to the Islanders, I really felt that the fans were being supportive, and it was great because they provided all sorts of energy for the team. But after the lockout, the mood here has been sour, so we are working very hard to get the fans back and get the positive atmosphere back because there has been a lot of negativity after the lockout. Last year didn't help because we didn't make the playoffs, so a lot of fans are really upset and they are showing negativity toward the team.

Alexei Yashin #79
Alexei Yashin may not be on the Islanders bench anymore.

Q: How has new coach Ted Nolan changed your game?

A: He's had a great impact on the team. He is great at getting us prepared for the game and he has taught us a lot as far as new systems. He knows how to use his players, and it makes a big difference when he allows you to rest when you need to and he pushes you when he should.

Q: So far in the NHL, you have had tremendous individual success, but you have only won one playoff series [1998 in Ottawa]. Why haven't your teams been more successful?

A: To get success, you have to build toward success, it won't just come to you. I know some guys come to the league and in their first year, they come to a good team like Detroit and they win a Cup. It didn't happen to me because I started on a team that was in last place. We had 28 points the first year in Ottawa, but we developed into one of the league's best teams. I then got traded to the Islanders when the team was in last place in the league, and my first year here, things went well, we went to the playoffs. So it takes some time to develop a great team that can fight for the Stanley Cup. It doesn't happen overnight. I hope we can turn things around quickly here and make big steps toward getting a Stanley Cup.

Q: You are married to former model Carol Alt. What was your wedding like?

A: We're not married [laughs]. We have been together for a while, but we're not married.

Q: Really? I have read at least three different articles that say you guys are married.

A: Oh, yeah? [Laughs.] That's funny. Trust me, we're not married.

Q: Any wedding plans?

A: No, not really. We're in a happy situation. She's happy and I'm happy to be together, so everything else is not really important.

Q: Does she ever give you hockey advice?

A: Sometimes she does because her modeling and movie career is very similar to the hockey business. She understands that people are always watching what we do very closely, she understands the travel and the people. There are a lot of similarities in all the entertainment businesses; the rules of life are the same and the rules of communication are the same. So whenever I have a tough situation or a tough question, she helps me out with advice, so I appreciate that.

Q: How much does Carol know about the game?

A: She really understands the game. She has been watching hockey for a long time. It's not like she plays hockey, but she gives her opinion as an outsider and usually she's right.

Q: What is it like as an Islander when you go to Madison Square Garden to play the Rangers?

A: It's a big rivalry. The media always gives it a lot of attention. It kind of reminds me of when I played for Ottawa and we played against Toronto. That was big, too. It's great for hockey to have rivalries like that because it always gets lots of attention. The fans are into it and the games are really intense. This year, we hope we can do what the Rangers did last year and play well and make the playoffs.

ESPN reporter David Amber is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.