When Nail Yakupov scored what many feel will be his last goal as an Edmonton Oiler, there was a sense he was trying to send a bit of a message.
It’s not often that sub-ten goal scorers pull out that kind of celIy – holstering his hockey stick as if he was a legendary gunslinger. Yakupov hasn’t pulled out that kind of on-ice swagger since the beginning of the season when he was partnered with McDavid. So my interpretation of his action is that Yakupov was saying a positive goodbye to Oiler fans. After all his agent has disclosed he approached Oiler’s management for a trade at the deadline and the Oiler’s didn’t object, strangely, telling Larionov to approach other teams to garner interest (according to Larionov)…
At this point all arrows pretty much point to Yak heading out of dodge. But in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, to me it makes more sense than ever, for now, to keep him. Why? Taking a pragmatic approach, I can think of a few reasons.
Now is Not the Time to Trade a Depreciated Asset
At this point in Yak’s career, his value is at an all-time low. What could we possibly get of value at this point? A second round pick might be a stretch, a first round pick would be a fantasy. If we were looking for a roster player back, there is little doubt that player would have a laundry list of issues, as would be expected because that’s the type of player going back. So does it make any sense to give away a former first overall pick for nothing? There may be interest in the league in attaining Yak’s services, but to be sure, teams won’t be giving up a lot. According to Peter Chiarelli, there was minimal market interest in Yakupov at the trade deadline.
Inevitable Off-Season Moves Will Leave Holes In The Top Six
While Yak likely doesn’t have the cache to bring back a top four right shot D in a trade, other parts of the core, and their necessary movement, will mean big changes to the team. At this point I would list our core players on the team moving into next season as follows: Connor Mcdavid, Leon Draisaitl, Brandon Davidson, Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, and Cam Talbot. Everyone else is fair game. In all likelihood one (possibly two) of the trifecta that includes Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be traded in the off-season. The most likely moves I would forecast would be RNH and Jordan Eberle, with the goal of bringing back two top four D in exchange (fingers crossed, a top pairing D). If that were to happen, Benoit Pouliot could be considered part of the package as well.
My observation is McLellan has seen one too many (and there have been lots) of stupid penalties at the wrong time of the game from this player. So lets say Eberle and Poo are moved in the off-season ( I think Nuge may be spared because of Mclellan’s value on center depth), where does that leave our scoring depth on the wing? Pretty thin I would say.
How Will We Re-Stock The Top Six Once D Issues Have Been Fixed?
Taking Poo and Ebs out of the line up leaves some obvious holes on wing. There are some ways to fix this problem, whether its feasible is another issue. One way is to promote internally. Maybe Zach Kassian or Iro Pakarainen will respond positively to a promotion? Well, that is an option, however we’d be lookiing to replace a 100+ points in the top six and I think that’s beyond a stretch for any pair being promoted internally within the Oiler’s roster.
Another option would be through the draft. At this point the Oilers are in a position to draft one of two high-octane flying Finns in Patrick Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi. There is a good chance one of these two players could step into the lineup immediately and be productive. However, there is an even better chance one of these 18-year-old rookies could show inconsistency, leading to more offensive struggles for the Oilers.
One more alternative is free agency. Re-stocking the wing is far easier to do than re-loading on the blueline. Peter Chiarelli traded for Loui Erickson once before and he will have the chance to acquire him again this year in the off-season via free agency. But I don’t believe there will be only one spot to fill once the dust settles and all the moves have been made to reinforce the D. I believe there will be more than one spot on the top six that needs to be filled. And ultimately, when you go to free agency, you rarely get value. So wouldn’t a better move be to keep Yak on the roster, in reserve? He’s on a value contract and can play either wing. It makes a lot of sense.
Would It Make Sense Bringing Yak Back?
The biggest risk in bringing Yak back is that we might see more of the same uncoachable, moody, and inconsistent play. But it’s not too far of a stretch to consider Yak starting the season on a line with McDavid and Maroon, just the way he finished it, yielding good results. And if no refs decide to tackle him mid-season leading to a pro-longed injury stretch, you can take a career year to the bank, and I don’t believe that’s an unreasonable proposition at all.
To this point Yak has pointed to his lack of icetime for his lack of success. In fairness, he has spent some time on the top lines, but consistency has eluded him and demotions soon followed. Imagine if players line Eberle, Hall, and Draisaitl were demoted in the same manner when they slumped this past season? Yak has had his share of opportunities and if the Oilers make the number of moves they will likely need to in the off-season, it may make sense to give him another shot. Who knows, the Oiler fans may see Yak strut his celly next year for one more season.