Another day, another Yakupov trade rumour. The rumour du jour has him going to New York for someone from their impressive stable of young defenseman. As much as I loathe the idea of trading the 1st overall pick only one year into his career, the options on the Ranger blueline are intriguing. At the very least we can temporarily put to rest the notion of sending Yaks to Toronto for their backup goalie (Reimer) or their 7th defenseman (Gardiner). As well as Reimer is playing, he simply is not worth a potential superstar.
Although I don’t comment a lot of the various internet boards that fans can post their ridiculous trade proposals, I do certainly get a kick out of reading them. My favourite are from the supposed ‘insiders’ in Toronto that always overvalue their own players and package their garbage for another team’s treasure. For example, today I read Reimer + Mclaren + Gunnarson + 3rd for Yakupov, Darnell Nurse and a 1st rounder. Even though the Mexican food I ate last night had already passed, this particular rumour tingled my anus. Hell, while we’re at it why don’t we throw in Taylor Hall for a couple passes to the Hall of Fame and some Blue Jay tickets? How about an oil pipeline into Ontario and in return we get Doug Gilmour’s false teeth and some of Tie Domi’s pubes? In case you can’t tell, the centre of the hockey universe doesn’t have the sharpest tools in the shed. Lots of tools, just not sharp ones.
Breaking down today’s rumour which was initially reported by the always credible (cough cough) Larry Brooks, a package including Yakupov or Hemsky could be moved for one of Staal, Mcdonaugh, Girardi or Michael Del Zotto. I like the idea of one of those players heading this way, however if Yakupov is any part of the discussion then either Staal or Mcdonaugh has to be coming back. As good as Dan Girardi has been, he’s suffering through a horrible season so far and is a pending UFA. Del Zotto comes from the same mold as Gardiner – an undersized puck moving defensemen who’s playing in a bottom pairing role. You’re banking on a lot of potential, which carries a big risk that the Oilers cannot afford to take at the moment. Marc Staal is the sexy name from this bunch. A two time All-Star and potential Olympian, he seems to be exactly what the doctor ordered for the ailing Oilers. Like Yakupov, he’s off to a horrible start this season on a bad team. Both the Rangers and Oilers are in desperate need of a shake-up, and a trade between the two would make sense.
The circus around Yakupov this season has been ridiculous. To say he’s started off slow is an understatement, but can you point to an Oiler who is playing well? There are none. Being benched by Dallas Eakins didn’t help the situation any, but there is no reasonable rationale for trading such a high ceiling player this early into his career. To be fair to Yaks, the other players on this team have been equally bad. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins started the season on the IR and has come back and had a few good games surrounded by a whole lot of bad games yet somehow he gets a pass on criticism. This team started out with Boyd Gordon as it’s only legitimate centreman, and benching RNH now that Sam Gagner is back would send a message that it’s not only charismatic Russians that get benched on this team. In 13 games, he’s a minus -10. Justin Schultz, another one of the fab 5 has been terrible this season. Fourteen games, also minus – 10. Both of these guys could use a night or two in the press box, but the Oilers management and coaching staff have chosen to single out Yakupov as the reason for the dismal start.
As much as some people don’t want to acknowledge it, much of the failure lies at the feet of Eakins. Blame Kevin Lowe all you want and I certainly don’t blame you, but he’s not the one turning the puck over on every shift. Craig MacTavish did follow through on his promise of roster turnover and although he wasn’t able to bring in an impact player, he nailed it on the acquisitions of David Perron and Boyd Gordon. Eakins, no matter how good a quote he is and how awesome his hair flows in the wind looks completely out of his league. I haven’t seen a coach this overwhelmed by NHL competition since George Burnett was patrolling the bench up here and that’s saying a lot. At least Burnett started the season out with a .500 record. Eakins has been nothing short of a disaster. You can watch every game this season and point out faults of each individual player on the ice and the confused look on their face when the opposition scores a goal. A competent goalie tandem could have provided at least 3 more wins but don’t let that fool you. This team is bad. Very bad. And it’s not the roster. It’s the system, or lack thereof. Can any of you tell me what the strategy going into any game is? What’s the structure on the back end? What’s the forechecking strategy? Where are guys supposed to be on the ice? Nobody knows and that’s the problem. Last year under Ralph Krueger this team had structure but bad pieces in it. Now the team conceivably has some better players at every position but are performing worse. That’s the coach’s fault. Not the GM or the president or the players.
Now before you get underwear or panties or diapers in a knot, I do fully realize that the Oilers have had more coaches in the past few years than Taylor Swift has ex-boyfriends. Regardless, if you hire 5 coaches and all of them are bad, you don’t just settle on the latest bad coach. You keep searching till you get it right. And nothing against the previous coaches either. None of them were put in a position to succeed. Pat Quinn took a roster that was ready to implode and that’s exactly what happened. Tom Renney was there to usher in rebuilding program and just stand on the bench while the team collected players through the draft. Ralph Krueger was brought in to begin the ‘now’ phase of the team, but inherited the same players from the previous failed seasons to work with. Eakins on the other hand, has talent at his disposal and some fresh new faces. No one can say that on paper this roster is worse than last year. Tremendous depth up front even with the current slate of injuries. Better depth on the blueline than anytime in the past 5 years. The quality in goal has been terrible, but that’s hardly the only issue at play here. Pay attention to the all the players when they don’t have the puck and you’ll see a bunch of cockroaches when the lights go on. It’s not just Yakupov. It’s everyone.
At the end of the day, there are zero trades out there that make sense involving Yakupov. The mythical number one defenseman does not exist on the market. You can forget about the top level guys like Weber, Subban, Doughty, Keith or Ekman-Larsson. With Yakupov’s value being as low as it is right now, the best return might include someone like Keith Yandle or Mike Green. For a team looking for a saviour, those names aren’t going to cut it. Aiming for one of the NYR is a good start, but not for Yakupov. Packaging Hemsky with a first round draft pick that figures to be in the top 5 would be fair value for a young top pairing defenseman. Yakupov can and should remain in Oiler blue until he either becomes Ilya Kovalchuk or Jason Bonsignore. He deserves the benefit of the doubt, and moving him at this stage of his career would be a colossal mistake.
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