April 21 2014 10:37PM
The bottom line is it doesn’t matter much that Anton Belov didn't want to return for a second season with the Edmonton Oilers as long as Dallas Eakins was the coach here, opting instead to sign with SKA in Russia.
Belov, who arrived in Edmonton after being named the KHL's best defensemen the previous season, didn't go into detail in comments to Russian reporter Pavel Lysenkov, as noted earlier today in an item by Jonathan Willis, but he did point a finger at Eakins.
"There is no one reason that made it an abrupt change," Belov said. "It all was building up during the season, especially more so after the Olympics. And the hire of coach Bykov (by SKA) was also an influence. The other point is that I could have re-signed with Edmonton, but I didn’t want to stay with that coach (Eakins)
In what can only be described as a sometimes-up-often-down season, Belov was an inconsistent and often mistake-prone player unable to command ice time with a defensive corps lacking both quality and depth. Was Belov worth having back? Sure. Is his departure a big loss? No.
That Belov clearly had issues with Eakins – be it a personality clash or a beef about how he was used -- isn’t a big deal. I'm much more interested in seeing if Eakins and Nail Yakupov can get on the same page going into next season because if they don't, well, that is a big deal. Way more at stake.
SOPHOMORE GONE SIDEWAYS
After scoring 17 goals and tallying 31 points in 48 games (.65 PPG) as a rookie last season under coach Ralph Krueger, Yakupov went sideways this season under Eakins, finishing with 11 goals and 24 points (.38 PPG) in 63 games before an ankle injury put him out.
Yakupov, 20, saw his ice time drop from 15:34 under Krueger to 14:19 under Eakins, with his power-play time dipping slightly from 2:28 to 2:10. How, when and with whom Yakupov was deployed by Eakins was questioned by agent Igor Larionov during the season.
More than once this season, Yakupov appeared frustrated and seemed at odds with Eakins. By the end of the season it was almost as if he'd mentally checked out. I'm not the only one who has made that observation. I'd be surprised if Larionov doesn't plan on getting back on the telephone with GM Craig MacTavish this off-season to re-visit what's happening with his client.
I've taken a few runs at Yakupov for being too individualistic and not working as diligently as he could at all aspects of his game, particularly his defensive play. He's a work-in-progress, sometimes a frustrating one at that. It comes with the territory when you're talking about a 20-year-old.
MEETING OF THE MINDS
Despite some obvious shortcomings at this stage of Yakupov's young career, I think Eakins has to take some of the blame for this sideways season – a fair amount, actually. Did Eakins give Yakupov the best possible opportunity to succeed in terms of how he was used and where he was used? No and no.
Did Yakupov contribute to the problem by withdrawing or sulking when things didn’t go his way? It seemed so. Did Eakins dig in his heels and insist things be done his way, as coaches are prone to do? Yes. Simply put, the way I see it, Eakins and Yakupov both have their stubborn streaks.
In the end, splitting the blame whatever way you see it doesn’t really matter. What does matter, and the challenge for Eakins, is that he finds a way to get on the same page with Yakupov. If that doesn’t happen, he risks losing the player and having Yakupov check out for good, and we're talking about a first overall pick here, not a fringe blueliner.
If that happens – nobody has told me we're at that point yet – and Larionov picks up the telephone and tells MacTavish his client wants out, Eakins will have a big problem, vote of confidence from the GM or not. The way I see it, Eakins and Yakupov better have a meaningful sit-down before Larionov and MacTavish do. Over to you, coach.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.