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.