NEW YORK (AP) - The New York Islanders will buy out the remaining four years of captain Alexei Yashin's 10-year contract in the first step of an off-season overhaul they hope will include re-signing Jason Blake and Ryan Smyth.
"It's going to make the team have a different look," coach Ted Nolan said of Yashin's departure during 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 as captain after Michael Peca was traded to Edmonton in 2005 following the NHL lockout. He had 18 goals and 32 assists this season, when he missed 24 games with a sprained right knee. He had no points in the Islanders' five-game playoff loss in the first round 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."
Islanders general manager Garth Snow and Nolan wouldn't disclose the team's off-season strategy, but acknowledged 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 July 1.
Yashin came to the Islanders in a trade with Ottawa after the 2000-'01 season . New York signed him to a 10-year, US$87.5 million, and the four years left 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.
"The Islanders have treated me with the utmost respect," Yashin said in a statement. "I've always believed in the vision (team owner) Charles Wang has for the organization.
"Although I won't be a part of it, I believe that the team is headed in the right direction. I'm looking forward to this new chapter in my life."
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's best season with the Islanders was his first in 2001-'02 when he had 32 goals and 43 assists in 78 games. He was acquired from the Senators one year after he sat out a full season because of a team suspension when he didn't report due to a contract dispute.
"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."
The Islanders traded top defenceman Zdeno Chara, a first-round pick the Senators used to draft top-line forward Jason Spezza, and Bill Muckalt, on draft day in 2001. Former New York GM Mike Milbury acquired Peca the following day from Buffalo in a two-pronged attempt to change the face of the franchise with a pair of big-name players that had fallen out of favour with their teams.
Peca had sat out the previous season with the Sabres because of a contract dispute of his own.
New York reached the playoffs four times during Yashin's tenure, but never past the first round. He had 11 goals and 27 points in 48 post-season games with the Islanders.
Spezza entered Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final Wednesday night with 22 playoff points this year, tied for the NHL lead with Ottawa teammate Dany Heatley.