WHERE IN THE WORLD IS YAKUPOV?

Jason Gregor
January 09 2013 09:24AM

Is Nail Yakupov staying in the KHL?

With Ilya Kovalchuk still on the roster for the KHL all-star game and Lubomir Visnovsky stating he's going to stay in the KHL rather than play for the New York Islanders, many Oilers fans are wondering if Yakupov will do the same.

The KHL might become an option for Yakupov in the future, but he'll be in Edmonton later this week and here's why.

Yakupov isn't a star like Ilya Kovalchuk, at least not yet. He hasn't scored one NHL goal, while Kovalchuk already has two 50-goal seasons and three 40-goal campaigns. In Russia, Yakupov doesn't possess the star power of a Kovalchuk or any of the other Russian stars who have succeeded in the NHL. The KHL desperately wants a proven NHL star to stay in their league to gain credibility amongst their fans.

If Yakupov has three solid seasons in the NHL, then I could see the KHL trying to bait him to come home with an enormous contract, but it won't happen now. The KHL is similar to the AHL in on-ice talent, except they pay their players more money. Paying them more money doesn't make the league better, and the owners and players know how competitive the league is.

Yakupov left Russia at 16 to play in the Ontario Hockey League. Last year he could have made played in the KHL and made significantly more money than he did with the Sarnia Sting, yet he chose the CHL because he felt that gave him the best chance to succeed in the NHL.

He and his family were in Edmonton this past summer and picked out a home to live in. He wants to be in Edmonton and the Oiler brass told me yesterday they expect him to arrive in Edmonton near the end of the week. Training camp likely will start on Sunday with physicals and then the first on-ice session will be Monday, so he doesn't need to be here until Saturday. The Oilers will get an update on Yakupov's ETA later today, but last night none of them expressed any concern that he wouldn't be coming to training camp.

Why would he play in the KHL now when he didn't do it last season? It makes no sense, but there is also the logistics of the NHL/KHL contract agreement.

"They (KHL) would not permit a player who is under a valid and binding NHL SPC (to) continue to play in the KHL once the lockout is officially lifted. They have confirmed their intention to honour this agreement to us," said Bill Daly on Tuesday in an email to the Associated Press.

Do you think Yakupov wants to damage his reputation and his dream of playing in the NHL? I seriously doubt it.

The key words are, "when the lockout is officially lifted." Until the NHLPA and NHL make the deal official, Kovalchuk isn't breaking any rules. He was getting paid huge money to play in the KHL, and his home country, and he wants to honour his deal as long as possible. The Devils might not like it, but they chose to lock him out on September 15th, and until he misses any NHL games he and the KHL aren't breaking any rules. The contract doesn't stipulate that players have to miss KHL games while the NHL and NHLPA take their sweet time ratifying the CBA.

The main reason Kovalchuk won't stay in the KHL is that he doesn't want to be suspended from international play by the IIHF. If he stayed in the KHL he wouldn't be able to play in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The Russian players are adamant they want to play in their home country, which I respect greatly, and there is no way Kovalchuk risks missing the Olympics by not honouring his NHL deal.

Once the 2014 Olympics are over, the KHL might try to entice him to stay, because legally there is nothing the NHL could do to force him to play. The Devils could sue for breach of contract, but the KHL team owner would cover it most likely. The courts can't force him to play in New Jersey.

I find it interesting that some people are irate at Kovalchuk for not dropping everything and jumping on the first plane to New Jersey, since many of these same fans said during the lockout that they were done with the NHL. Seems to me Kovaluchuk is taking a minor stand before showing up later this week.

Until now Kovalchuk has done nothing wrong, and I don't expect him to stay in the KHL, just like Oilers fans likely don't need to worry about Yakupov showing up for training camp.

He wants to play in the best league in the world, and the Oilers will welcome him with open arms when he arrives in Edmonton.

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One of Canada's most versatile sports personalities. Jason hosts The Jason Gregor Show, weekdays from 2 to 6 p.m., on TSN 1260, and he writes a column every Monday in the Edmonton Journal. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JasonGregor
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#51 Neil
January 09 2013, 09:35PM
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Gregor,

Just wanted to say thanks for the great article. Not only was it well written, you were bang on because Yakupov is in town now. You have been in on lots of scoops and some very good stories lately, just wanted to say great job. Keep it up.

Go Oil...I'm guessing Yak scores a goal his first game and Schultz gets an assist...Will be a great year.I think we are going to finish 6th in west. A guy can dream.

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#52 ginganinja
January 09 2013, 10:21PM
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Hes here! Hes here! Assigned a stall between Smid and Hemsky. Make him feel at home between two of his countryme...... Wait. Do czechs and russians speak the same language?

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#53 ginganinja
January 09 2013, 10:22PM
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Hes here! Hes here! Assigned a stall between Smid and Hemsky. Make him feel at home between two of his countryme...... Wait. Do czechs and russians speak the same language?

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#54 Reg Dunlop
January 09 2013, 10:31PM
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@Jason Gregor

First off, as a loyal listener to your show I am well aware that the Bure being referenced wasn't Val but the slight against Yak is funnier that way. I was not joking about Yak being a potential problem in the room, however. If things don't pan out here, remember... you heard it here first. If he wins the Calder then I will happily admit I was dead wrong. Reminds me of a young player I once knew named Ned Braden...

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#55 The Soup Fascist
January 09 2013, 10:37PM
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ginganinja wrote:

Hes here! Hes here! Assigned a stall between Smid and Hemsky. Make him feel at home between two of his countryme...... Wait. Do czechs and russians speak the same language?

They are exactly the same, except that Czechs hate Russians. Bunch of whiners - a measly 40 years of oppression and one little dust-up with tanks rolling through downtown Prague.

Good thing is yak is not really a Ruskie. He is a Tatar. They probably were persecuted for their faith and love of yummy sauce for fish.

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#56 Czar
January 09 2013, 10:42PM
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Quintin Rowe wrote:

Yakupov is # 64 And I have a white jersey of him

Same year I was born. Will look good with the others! Thx dude

"He will be wearing #64 since #10 is not available. 6+4."

Cool Gregor and educational

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#57 Oilertown
January 10 2013, 04:05AM
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Reg Dunlop wrote:

First off, as a loyal listener to your show I am well aware that the Bure being referenced wasn't Val but the slight against Yak is funnier that way. I was not joking about Yak being a potential problem in the room, however. If things don't pan out here, remember... you heard it here first. If he wins the Calder then I will happily admit I was dead wrong. Reminds me of a young player I once knew named Ned Braden...

Pfffft whatever Yaks will be fine he will fit in and light it up. You don't like him cheer for another team then.

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#59 Rama Lama
January 10 2013, 11:08AM
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Jason Gregor wrote:

I remember last year people saying RNH was a bad pick cause he didn't produce points for Red Deer in the playoffs.

Then all of them ate crow...

I'm perplexed by those who think Yakupov won't play hard or that he has an attitude problem because he said the truth. Canada does play dirty compared to the European style.

He'll have some growing pains for sure, but Krueger likes him and as long as Yak learns from the inevitable mistakes he makes he'll be successful.

I was one of the one campaigning against selecting RNH,.........I am very, very, happy to be proved wrong in this case.

I sat on the fence when it came to Yakupov, and I hope people give him a chance. Ultimately he can silence his critics by putting up some points and playing a team game. It's too bad that the coaching for Russia at the world junior concentrated so much of it's efforts on letting the star play their game, at the expense of a team approach.

I beleive Nail will shine under Krueger's strong team first approach.

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