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The National Hockey League won its arbitration case against Ottawa Senators holdout centre Alexei Yashin, the league said yesterday.

Boston-based arbitrator Lawrence Holden ruled that Yashin owes the Senators one year of service under his contract, which was worth $3.6-million (U.S.) for the 1999-2000 season, the NHL said.

"This case was not about whether Alexei should or should not have played during the 1999-2000 season," Ian Pulver, the associate counsel for the NHL Players' Association, said in a statement yesterday.

"This was a case about whether Alexei owed another year on his contract. From a legal perspective, we think the arbitrator reached the wrong decision. Particularly to the extent that the arbitrator based his decision on a series of communications between [former NHLPA executive director]Alan Eagleson and [former NHL president]John Ziegler."

The NHL wouldn't comment on the ruling or release further details of it.

The Senators scheduled a news conference for today in which owner Rod Bryden and general manager Marshall Johnston will give the club's reaction and plans.

"That's not a concern of ours at this point," Johnston said in response to a question about whether it was possible to bring Yashin back into the Senators' dressing room. Johnston was speaking before the arbitrator's decision was announced.

"When he [Yashin]was in our locker room," Johnston added, "it was fine and I haven't seen or heard anything that would lead me to believe that if he does return that there will be a significant disruption."

Yashin's agent, Mark Gandler could not be reached for comment. Yashin was in Toronto yesterday, according to a family member, but attempts to reach him failed.

The Russian player had claimed that he would become a free agent on July 1, the day after his five-year contract was scheduled to expire. The NHL countered that he had not fulfilled the contract because he did not report to the Senators for the 1999-2000 season, therefore owing the club the final year of service.

Holden listened to the arguments of Yashin and the league in Ottawa and New York last month.

"It's an important decision," said player agent Don Meehan, who represents Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Curtis Joseph. "It is a unique set of circumstances which I think, given there's a disagreement on both sides in relation to how this kind of situation should be handled and given that we may see new situations like this in the future, it's going to give us a strong indication as to what our rules and regulations are going to be in this regard."

In Vancouver, Brian Burke, president and general manager of the Vancouver Canucks, said: "As an NHL team, we're pleased with the result. As a Canadian team, we're particularly pleased with the result. . . . Until I see the opinion and read it and see what's involved, I don't know if he's limited his ruling to this particular incident."

The Canucks had a similar incident two years ago when Pavel Bure withdrew his services before training camp, demanding a trade while staying in Moscow.

Burke suspended Bure for several months before dealing the Russian Rocket to the Florida Panthers in a multiplayer trade.

"I said when Bure held out, if he sat out all year, he'd owe us a year," Burke told reporters yesterday. "None of you would believe me."

The NHL has sought to prevent players from getting out of a contract by sitting out, something the league could not get in its bargaining with the NHLPA. Other major-league sports have agreements that prevent players from getting out of contracts through holdouts.

The league and Yashin will face another arbitration hearing next month, this one to deal with the league's claim that Yashin's prolonged holdout hurt the team's performance on the ice and in ticket sales and merchandising. The league is seeking $7-million in damages for the Senators.

Johnston said last week that the Senators would not trade the Russian centre until Holden's ruling.

Yashin had asked the Senators to renegotiate the final year of his contract last summer, after a 94-point season in which he was a finalist for the Hart Trophy, given to the league's most valuable player. He refused to play for the Senators without a new deal and was suspended by the club for the entire season. He wanted a contract that would pay him an average of $8-million (U.S.) a season.

Yashin was the second overall draft pick in 1992 and is the Senators' career leader in goals, assists and points. Allan Maki /Sens should unload Yashin

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