'He's enjoying playing again'

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 10:19 AM ET

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The talk of buying out Alexei Yashin at the end of the season has disappeared.

Now, the New York Islanders are having a hard time living without the former Senator.

With four years still left on the 10-year, $87.5-million contract Yashin signed with the Islanders in 2001, there was a strong belief that this might be his last year wearing an Islanders' uniform.

But with new GM Garth Snow taking over and coach Ted Nolan behind the bench, Yashin had turned into the Isles' best player before he suffered an MCL sprain to his knee earlier this month.

"I've really felt he's played the best hockey of his career and I don't think there's any question about it," Mark Gandler, Yashin's New Jersey-based agent, said yesterday.

"There's three areas where I've really seen a difference: His defensive play, his physical play and his skating. I don't think he's changed at all, I just believe he's happy from within. He has the trust of his coaching staff and that means a lot to a player like (Yashin). He's happy and that's reflected in his play."

Nolan said Yashin, who has 10 goals and 18 assists in 22 games, was the club's top player before suffering the knee injury.

"Watching Alexei, when I coached in Buffalo and he was in Ottawa, I always thought he was one of the premier players in the league," said Nolan yesterday.

"Unfortunately, the last couple of years, it hasn't been working out so well for him. But this year, he worked extremely hard in the off-season, came in here with a good attitude and we surrounded him with some good character guys. He's enjoying playing again and we're enjoying watching him."

Yashin resumed skating two days ago as part of the recovery from the injury that has forced him to miss six games. The initial estimate was he could be out up to a month, but it's not going to be that long.

He looked good circling the ice, although he was being careful when turning.

"I'd say we'll have him back in the next week to 10 days, but we're not going to push him and we're going to wait until he's 100%," said Nolan.

AROUND THE BOARDS: The NHL's board of governors put off a decision on the changing the schedule yesterday, but Senators president Roy Mlakar believes the issue will resurface again during a meeting at the all-star game in Dallas next month. "I wouldn't be surprised if we decided to revisit this issue," said Mlakar from Palm Beach after the meetings wrapped up yesterday ... There's major concern about Minny RW Marian Gaborik. As reported in the Sunday Sun, he may have suffered a setback with a groin injury that has already forced him to miss 19 games and wasn't on the ice with the club at practice Monday. "I was surprised he wasn't there and I don't know when he will be," said Wild coach Jacques Lemaire ... Nolan has been impressed with the play of LW Viktor Kozlov, who scored four goals against the Rangers in a 7-4 win Sunday. "It's just one of those games where everything he shot went in. Ever since (Yashin) went down, he's got better and better as the games have gone on," said Nolan.

THE BUZZ: The Isles didn't have G Rick DiPietro last night against the Senators because he was out with a nagging "lower body injury." He didn't even dress as the backup to G Mike Dunham, but Nolan maintained he won't be out long. "He played back-to-back games and we're just going to give him a rest. He'll be back and he's just day-to-day," said Nolan ... Senators LW Peter Schaefer, who didn't skate in Ottawa on Monday because of "upper body" soreness, was in the lineup ... The last time the Isles were in first place in the Atlantic Division this late in the season was five years ago. "It's always hard to get somewhere, it's double-hard to stay there," said Nolan. "Our big focus is not so much position, it's playing well. If we play well, we'll be where we deserve to be."


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