This 2006 handout from the NHL shows New York Islanders hockey player Alexei Yashin. (CPimages/AP Photo/HO, NHL)
"It's going to make the team have a different look," coach Ted Nolan said of Yashin's departure in a conference call Wednesday. "Hopefully, we can work something out with (Blake and Smyth). We're trying to assemble a cohesive group here."
Yashin finished with 119 goals and 171 assists in 346 games with the Islanders, but struggled the past two seasons. He had 18 goals and 32 assists this season, when he missed 24 games with a sprained right knee. He was scoreless in the Islanders' five-game first-round playoff loss to the Buffalo Sabres.
"Unfortunately he got hurt and couldn't get back to where he was before. ... He couldn't get it going," Nolan said. "It'll be a nice fresh start for him and now we have to find someone to replace him."
General manager Garth Snow and Nolan wouldn't disclose the team's off-season strategy, but acknowledged that re-signing Blake, their leading scorer, and Smyth would be priorities.
"We'd love to have Ryan back," Nolan said. "We're going to do everything we can to keep him."
Smyth, who was acquired in a trade-deadline deal, and Blake can become unrestricted free agents on July 1.
Yashin came to the Islanders in a trade after the 2000-01 season. New York signed him to a 10-year contract worth US$87.5 million. The four years left on the deal are worth $26.45 million. The Islanders can buy Yashin out by paying two-thirds of the remaining amount ($17.63 million) over the next eight years for a salary-cap hit of about $2.2 million per season.
Snow said the Islanders' decision was based on discussions among team officials and that Yashin was disappointed when he learned of the buyout Tuesday.
"From my time knowing Alexei as a teammate and as a general manager, I have learned that Alexei is nothing but a first-class individual," said Snow, who played with Yashin for four seasons before becoming the Islanders GM. "With him on the team, the Islanders made the playoffs four out of the last five seasons and I believe that we would not have been able to do that without him."
Yashin had his best season with the Islanders in 2001-02 when he had 32 goals and 43 assists in 78 games.
"I believe this is in the best interests of the team and player. ... " Nolan said. "Alexei will have the opportunity to pursue a fresh start and we'll look at options to fill his position."