Edmonton Oilers GM Craig MacTavish said just last week he isn’t trying to trade Nail Yakupov, but agent Igor Larionov has tongues wagging across the NHL today, saying his client is open to a trade. Anywhere is fine.
Two Tweets from the Twitter account of ESPN Magazine senior hockey writer Craig Custance are again fuelling speculation that the struggling Yakupov could be on the move out Edmonton just 65 games into his NHL career with the Oilers, who picked him first overall in 2012. Just after 6 p.m. Edmonton time, the following:
If EDM unhappy with him, Larionov said Yak open to trade: "We’re willing to make a move. Any team. That happens and that’s part of life."
— Craig Custance (@CraigCustance) November 12, 2013
A couple of hours prior to that, just before 5 p.m., Custance posted:
Igor Larionov says he’s got a trip planned to Edmonton to discuss how Nail Yakupov is being used. Pretty unhappy.
— Craig Custance (@CraigCustance) November 11, 2013
So, according to Custance, a seasoned scribe not prone to passing along baseless hearsay or making things up, and in direct quotes, Yakupov is open to and OK with being traded by the Oilers and Larionov plans to swing into town for a sit-down with MacTavish and maybe coach Dallas Eakins to discuss how his client is being used. That about cover it?
Is that trouble with a capital T or entitlement with a capital E?
EARLY SPLIT OR HISSY FIT?
It’s completely understandable why Yakupov wouldn’t be anything close to happy right now. Aside from the Oilers being off to a horrid 4-13-2 start, Yakupov has struggled mightily through the first 17 games of his sophomore season.
After finishing his rookie season like a house on fire with five goals in his last two games and totals of 17-14-31 in 48 games, Yakupov has scored just 2-2-4 in 17 games this season. He’s been a healthy scratch. He’s been moved up and down the line-up by Eakins. He’s got every reason to be frustrated.
Is that all this is? I’m not sure. Players struggling during a difficult stretch or through a frustrating set of circumstances – diminished ice time, offensive droughts — will often vent to their agents. Sometimes, it’s a one-off. Then, the puck goes in the net, as it did in Chicago Sunday. Ice time increases. The team starts to win again. Cooler heads prevail. It’s not often the crux of those conversations is passed on to media types.
Now, this from Larionov about Yakupov, the third and last of three first overall picks over the past four seasons after Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Wasn’t it, like, just six or eight weeks ago that Oiler fans and some media types were thinking out loud about how Yakupov’s next contract might stack up to those inked by Hall, RNH and Jordan Eberle?
This, just after MacTavish went out of his way to stifle speculation the Oilers were shopping the talented 20-year-old Russian winger: "When we drafted Nail it was because we believed he’d be a dynamic, electric, exciting player and that hasn’t changed. We were not expecting him to become all that in the first 70 games of his career," he said.
"We very much believe Nail will evolve to become that dynamic, electric player — become one of the most entertaining guys in the game. I told that to Igor. And I told that to Yak. Development is very rarely a straight line. It has ups and downs."
SO, WHAT NEXT?
So, what to make of this? Whatever conclusion you draw, it’s difficult for me to believe Larionov didn’t know exactly what he was saying. I’m guessing he said it with the blessing of his client. Leverage? Sending a message? Or is something already broken that can’t be fixed? I don’t know.
While "open to a trade" doesn’t necessarily equate to "I want to be traded," it’s just a degree or two short. Demanding a trade now, given how poorly he’s played, would be the epitome of entitlement — blaming everybody else but himself for the situation Yakupov finds himself in.
Whatever the case, and despite what MacTavish said last week, I’m guessing what Larionov said today will get MacT’s cell phone ringing just as surely as it has people talking already. Stay tuned.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.