The saga of Nail Yakupov continues going into this off-season, with trade rumours circling around him once again since this week’s verbal pillaging by Darren Dreger. Was it warranted? Was it accurate? Depends who you ask. The fact remains that this dynamic winger with an elite skill set has yet to make any significant contributions at the NHL level and the immediate outlook is bleak.
The number one critique of Yakupov has been his defensive play. Well no kidding. A league worst -33 and seemingly lost on nearly every shift when the puck enters his own zone, it’s not hard to see that he hasn’t grasped the concept of 200 foot hockey. Is that entirely his fault? No. Taking a look at the rest of the roster, he’s not far off what other skill players on this team are ranked. Taylor Hall is a – 13. Jordan Eberle is a – 15. Sam Gagner in only 55 games is a – 21. Lastly, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins who is often compared to Pavel Datsyuk for his defensive prowess, is – 17. Singling out Yakupov as a terrible defensive player while excluding the others from equal criticism is not only unfair, it’s completely misplaced.
How does a rookie player who was on pace to score 30 goals over a full season fall from grace so quickly? You don’t need to look any further than Dallas Eakins. The fact that every player on this roster has regressed so drastically falls squarely at his feet. Yakupov was a – 4 in his rookie season. Eberle was – 3, Gagner – 6. Hall and RNH were actually a combined + 8. It’s unfathomable how things turned around so quickly. Albeit in only 48 games last year, the Oilers were only a – 9 goal differential between goals for and against. In 69 games this year, a league worst and ungodly – 53 goals. Some of that you could blame on the Barnum & Bailey show in goal between Dubnyk & Labarbera, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that there are only two plus players on this team. Martin Marincin and Ben Eager. Yes, I said Ben Eager.
Stats are one thing, but the naked eye doesn’t lie. Most of the goals for on this team are scored off the rush. Most of the goals scored against this team are the result of Oilers running around like chickens with their heads cut off. There is zero semblance of structure and no player has any idea what their assignment is. It’s like minor hockey when the dad of one of the kids volunteers to be coach even though he has zero knowledge of how to play. Most of those dads hockey experience is basically watching TV and listening to sports talk radio on the way home. They basically get on the bench and yell ‘go get’em boys!’ and let the chips fall where they may and that’s exactly what’s happened to the Oilers. A rookie head coach who succeeded at a lower level came in and immediately was in way over his head, leaving a bunch of guys to scramble around on the ice and figure it out themselves. I was never a huge fan of Ralph Krueger, but after seeing what Eakins has done to this promising team has given me a greater appreciation of what did.
Coming back to Yakupov and his place on this team moving forward, one can only assume that something has to change this summer; either the coach or player. I can’t see MacT giving up Yaks for pennies on the dollar and watching him succeed with another organization. That elusive number one defenseman is not going to come back in a trade with Yaks being the centrepiece. It will definitely cost a player like Jordan Eberle who is a known quantity.
“I would say it’s unlikely that he’s an Edmonton Oiler next season. So it makes sense that they’ll try and move him. They were trying to move him at various points this season. Word is out that Nail Yakupov is available. The problem is, no one really wants him. Certainly not for the value that the Edmonton Oilers are going to need to get back in return. And you can see why. He had opportunities in this game early on. He scored one goal in his last 11 games. He was on the ice late in the game when the Blues scored to tie the hockey game. He’s an NHL worst -30. He lacks commitment. He thinks that skill is enough to be an NHL player. And the unfortunate reality for Nail Yakupov is that, yes, he’s a skilled player, but not an elite level skill player. And until he finds a way to absorb the message, the market on Nail Yakupov isn’t going to be great. They might have to package him with a collection of assets to get something better in return.”
Regarding Dreger’s comments earlier this week, I can only assume that Yaks has probably ‘nailed’ his wife or something (see what I did there?). Dreger has had a hard on for Yak bashing since earlier this season when Yaks was a healthy scratch for two games. At the time it appeared to be tough love from a coach who was trying to teach a lesson to a player whose game was still in its infancy. Then Dreger in his infinite wisdom spouts out with a straight face that the Leafs would not trade their backup goalie in James Reimer straight up for Yakupov. Even the dumbest fan of hockey in any city around the world would pull the trigger on that deal in a heartbeat. A first overall pick for a backup goalie with a limited ceiling? Gimme a break. I immediately lost respect for Dreger as a hockey insider and relegated him to future host of an Al Gore documentary. Coming out with the venom he did this week is inexplicable and bizarre. I can only assume he’s working on the Leafs behalf to lower the price should they be interested in acquiring him.
What does the future hold for Yaks? He will be back next season. The Oil will wait another season before deciding to cut ties with him or sign him to an extension. Why trade him now? He has one year left on his entry level contract and you won’t solve any problems by dealing him. There are other players to deal who will fetch a greater return. Although MacT badly misfired on his choice of coach and a few free agents, he has shown some adeptness in his ability to tackle the trade market and I can’t see him dealing Yaks for anything less than an upgrade at this point. Two things are almost certain at this point – Yakupov is part of the plans for next season and Dreger’s wife must be pretty.
It’s been a long hiatus for those who have been following me. I shattered my wrist on my strong hand a few months back in a non-sexually related incident and have been unable to contribute since then. I’m glad to report that I’m all mended up and ready to re-join the exclusive club of hockey pundits (sarcasm). My cat has reached an inexcusable 25 lbs and my abs look like a soggy pile of wet laundry but the time to whip myself back into shape has arrived. I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this and anything else you have on your mind. Follow me on twitter @Yaseen_AC.