Leon Draisaitl and Nail Yakupov

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Something very interesting has been going on with the Edmonton Oilers’ scouting staff, and it’s the kind of thing that really ought to get somebody fired.

Draisaitl

Lowetide’s Allan Mitchell brought this up the other day, and it’s hard to disagree with his viewpoint:

Are there signs of MacT getting stubborn now? Sure. Keeping all of the coaches would be an example, and I do think there are leaks again—something that did not happen in the Tambellini era. When you’ve got Jim Matheson telling the world that the Oilers like Leon Draisaitl, that’s information that, if true, puts the club in a position of weakness. That’s a thing. A really bad thing.What should MacT do? Find the leak and shoot it between the eyes.

There is no upside – none – for the team to be leaking parts of its draft list to a local reporter, and Mitchell’s explanation of what MacTavish should do about it is bang-on from an organizational perspective. Where I think he’s mistaken is in saying that these leaks didn’t happen during the Tambellini era.

One example would be Mitch Moroz, the guy the Oilers drafted instead of Matt Finn. After talking about the Oilers’ failure to land a defenceman in the first round of 2012, Matheson specifically cited Finn the evening before the rest of the draft – but then wandered off him to talk up the case for Moroz. It’s pretty hard to say he wasn’t being fed information by someone with knowledge of the Oilers’ scouting process.

But that’s the small story of the 2012 Draft. The much bigger one is Nail Yakupov.

Yakupov

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It’s easy to remember what happened here. Oilers fans were overwhelmingly in favour of their team taking Yakupov, the consensus No. 1 pick, in the first overall slot. Meanwhile in the media, there were all kinds of signals that the Oilers would take Ryan Murray instead. Then came the draft and Yakupov was the pick.

Almost immediately, the story started circulating that the scouts had decided on Murray, but had been overruled by owner Daryl Katz, who wanted the team to take Yakupov.

The question came up during Craig MacTavish’s end-of-season press conference, and his answer to whether there was interference from ownership was as illuminating as it was evasive:

We very much targeted Nail Yakupov as an offensive phenom. We felt that he was very deserving of being the number one pick. We felt that his upside was maybe higher than Ryan Murray that Columbus ultimately drafted. We drafted him for the right reasons. We still believe that he’s going to be a great goal scorer and there’s a premium on goal scoring. Colorado did a similar thing last year when they drafted Nathan MacKinnon. There’s lots of upside in Nail, and it’s up to us and our organization to get that from him. But he was a very legitimate number one pick and we still feel strongly that we made the right decision.

That isn’t a confirmation, but it really, really isn’t a denial. It’s not even a ‘you know, there are a lot of baseless rumours that make the rounds and so I don’t comment on them.’ The answer is basically, ‘whatever the process, we did it for the right reasons.’

(Sidebar: The timing of this question is pretty interesting, as it came two years after Yakupov was drafted and the stories started. If it had been asked last season, for example (when Yakupov was the NHL’s leading scorer among rookies) it would have reflected positively on Katz and negatively on the scouts. By waiting two years, whichever reporter asked it basically held on to the question until the point when a confirmation would embarrass the Oilers’ owner. I didn’t see who asked the question, and I don’t know that whoever it was had an axe to grind with ownership, but the timing is suggestive.)

The Oilers really can’t afford to have this kind of information leak. It’s great for reporters – the disgruntlement that accompanies organizational dysfunction often leads to information leaking – but it’s unprofessional for the team and worse than that it reduces their leverage if they’re considering trading down at the draft.

What to Do

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Burn it down.

The Oilers’ scouts under MacGregor (and Prendergast before him, as many of the names are the same) have a record that can perhaps best be described as mixed. They haven’t been all bad, but there have been plenty of mistakes along the way and nobody in the NHL thinks “Edmonton” when wondering who the best scouting team in the NHL is.

In other words, they aren’t so good that there isn’t room for change.

Find the leak and fire him. If the team’s lucky, maybe it will be the same guy who pushed for Cam Abney as a top-100 pick, and then the Oilers can kill two birds with one stone.

At least, that is what is best for the team. For people covering the team, the more leaks the better.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • Spaceman Spiff

    Jonathan, you do great work and I enjoy reading your column, so I say this with all due respect: Relax. Chill out. None of the above is that big of a deal.

    Where to start? OK. “Leaking” draft secrets to the media.

    For one thing, it’s Jim Matheson. Elmer Ferguson Award winner. Holder of the infamous Peter Pocklington “Gretz has an ego the size of Manhattan” interview tape. He’s got all kinds of media contacts – and team contacts – throughout the league. Teams have reportedly called Matty over the years to ask about players before trading for them. How do you know he was tipped by someone on the Oilers staff? How do you know he didn’t hear it from someone in NHL Central Scouting who heard it from someone from the Oilers? How do you know he didn’t hear it from, say, the GM of the Oil Kings, who heard it from, say, Prince Albert coach Cory Clouston?

    My point is, reporters don’t always get tips straight from the team. Reportage requires more than that – in fact, that’s one of the fundamental differences between the beat reporters and (most of) the bloggers. Bloggers (present company excepted, of course) generally don’t get out that much. The beat reporters in the MSM work contacts, hang around with other team officials (and reporters) and generally news-gather. They hear stuff through the grapevine and if they figure it’s accurate enough to run with, they print it.

    To suggest that Matty is asserting the Oilers like Draisaitl because someone on the Oilers scouting staff told him that while they were standing in line at the press box popcorn maker sells Matty a little short, no?

    Secondly, this isn’t the first time draft leaks have happened. I can remember The Hockey News Draft Preview in 1994 noting that the Oilers were “said to be quite enamored of Jason Bonsignore.” Of course, that pick was an utter disaster, but the Oilers got their man (who wouldn’t have slipped past No. 5 – he was considered a big-time prospect). Same thing with Jason Arnott a year earlier. I remember the Oilers had zeroed in him in the weeks before the draft (my guess is that Matty probably had that story) … but the Oilers still got him at No. 7.

    Hey – didn’t MacT tell season ticketholders last year (before the draft) that he loved Darnell Nurse’s game?

    And never mind Brian Burke’s masterful series of trades at the 1999 draft that got him the Sedin twins. I’m pretty sure that it was common knowledge in the days and weeks leading up to the draft that Burkie was working the phones to engineer the deals to get him the picks … and yet they still happened. No one got in his way.

    Put it this way: I wouldn’t be firing anyone on the Oilers based on who you think might have tipped off Jim Matheson. It could be one of a 100 people in the hockey world.

    Alrighty. Now. Yakupov.

    I read your pullout-clip from MacT’s end-of-season press conference 14 times and I’m still trying to determine what exactly is so “illuminating” about it.

    If I may sum it up: “We picked Yakupov because we need goals and we liked his goal-scoring upside better than Ryan Murray’s defensive upside.”

    Or, if you prefer: “Unlike the Boston Bruins in 1982, we passed on Gord Kluzak and took Brian Bellows instead.”

    I’m sorry, Jonathan, but I don’t see how any of that is “really, really” a non-denial.

    The Oilers picked Yak because everyone in the hockey world said he was the best player available. If they didn’t, they would have been thoroughly ripped for it … especially after last season.

    • Here’s the problem: regardless of the source, the names of the guys the Oilers like early are leaking before the picks are made.

      Whether it’s from a scout to Clouston, or a scout to someone at NHL CSS, or a scout to a reporter directly doesn’t matter: the bottom line is that there’s a competitive advantage to keeping that draft list secret and the Oilers are losing it.

      As for Yak, MacT’s answer is illuminating because he wasn’t asked ‘Why did you pick Yak?’, he was basically asked ‘Did ownership overrule your scouts?’

      • Spaceman Spiff

        Fair enough, Jonathan.

        I guess I’m not entirely convinced it’s that much of a problem … or at least not when you’re picking fourth. The Oilers know they’re going to get a good player there.

        I do agree that secrecy is important, but I think the “secrecy” probably only gets important when you enter the “second-tier” of first-rounders, and then beyond that. Jordan Eberle at 22nd overall is a wonderful example of the importance of keeping a pick secret.

        But, then again, sometimes the secret takes care of itself.

        I remember reading a story in The Hockey News years ago of how Joe Sakic fell to the 15th pick in 1987. As someone from the Nordiques told it, on some sort of “meet-the-prospect-day” before the draft, the top 21-or-so prospects were lined up in a row, all wearing their junior jerseys over their shirts-and-ties. Standing on either side of Sakic were Luke Richardson and Brendan Shanahan – both of whom were over 6-2 and would have dwarfed the 5-10, 175-pound Sakic. The Nords scouts, picking 15th, knew right then and there that Sakic would fall to them.

        Did the Oilers ownership over-rule the Oilers scouts? Maybe. Maybe not. If he did, good on him. Yak was the player with the better potential that day. As to why MacT didn’t answer the question that was asked, my guess is that he didn’t feel it was worth addressing. He stuck on the “key message” that the scouts thought Yak was the better player, which he was. As a fan, I have no problem with that, regardless of whether or not Murray surpasses Yak … or if they’re both surpassed by some smallish player picked later in the first round.

  • pkam

    Honestly, is there any team that is air tight and don’t lead any inside information?

    And what is the big deal about it? Didn’t JW say we lead inside information that our scouts preferred Murray and it turned out to be Yak? So how trustworthy and reliable is this lead?

    And the best way to prevent the lead is to make the information public, like what the Avs did last year. Do you think there will be any lead of Murray if our management announced Yak to be our choice?

    If you want to fire a scout, I’ll rather they fire the incapable ones, instead of firing the one who lead inside information to keep the incapable ones.

  • You don’t need a leak when Stauffer is running PR for the Leon pick, saying he’s heard good things “outside the organization”. Might as well get your news from the owner’s mouthpiece.

  • Its worth noting Joe Sakic announced that they were not taking the consensus #1 pick Seth Jones just days before the draft. This is likely out of respect for Seth Jones so he was able to deal with the disappointment in private rather than with all the lights and cameras on him. Class act by Burnaby Joe.

  • Zarny

    @pkam

    It only created leverage for Colorado if they thought Mackinnon was the player teams wanted to trade up for.

    From my recollection that wasn’t the case. It was all about Jones. Of course I’m not privy to what GM’s were saying to Col and the fact Jones slipped to 4th might indicate it was all about Mackinnon for teams looking to move up.

    I suspect Joe was just answering a question honestly. Regardless, I still see no advantage to ever tip your hat. The more uncertainty your enemy deals with the better.

    • pkam

      I don’t think Colorado was thinking about creating leverage when they made the announcement, but it did as Florida was not considering trading up before the announcement.

      Florida backed off when they found out the asking price was too much, what if Florida was desperate enough to accept the request?

  • THRNHJE

    I’m going to call it, all of this talk about Draisatl is going to amount to nothing, because if Ekblad or Reinhart fall to number 3, then there is no question, and I really feel like Ekblad is not going to be taken when MacT comes to the podium and his dreams of a pairing of Nurse Ekblad torturing the west for a decade come true when he grabs him.

  • THRNHJE

    “Find the leak and fire him. If the team’s lucky, maybe it will be the same guy who pushed for Cam Abney as a top-100 pick, and then the Oilers can kill two birds with one stone.”

    That pick was in all likelihood Lowe. The team has been chasing coke machines since he showed up.

  • Anton CP

    After the first picture that this song just came to my head…

    ~You are the Dancing Queen, young and sweet, only in twenty~
    Dancing Queen, feel the heat from the zamboni~

  • Der Skeptiker

    The Oil can’t make another coaching change, and the fact they can’t further exemplifies the folly of hiring rookies. KLowe hires the rookie, Mact and the first thing he does is plays his coaching-change card. Here he makes not one, but two mistakes: plays the card too early, and picks an unproven rookie. Now, a year later, with a half dozen quality, and soon-to-be unemployed NHL coaches, Mact can not play his coaching card. Wouldn’t it be nice if it where still Kruger right now? you either keep him or hire a better coach.

    they Oilers fire a coach when it isn’t called for, and replace him with a worse one. Mind boggling.

    • Der Skeptiker

      The amazing part of the coaching story is that MacT is happy with his coaching staff. Hello McIdiot you finished 29th, Eakins is without a doubt the worst coach in the NHL. I know they have made a lot of coaching moves in the last 6 years but this is one year that they have to make another change. How can you go into the next year with Eakins as your HEad Coach when there are proven good NHL coaches available? MacT has to make one of his BOLD moves now because he hasn’t made any yet so now is the time. A total new coaching staff to try and get this train wreck back on the tracks

    • Der Skeptiker

      The Oilers will could hire a good, proven coach, and then demote Eakins to assistant coach.

      They are hoping Eakins will come through. The trouble is they are hoping he’ll turn around.

      And if he doesn’t? Then what – Oh, wait another year?

  • So Matty interviews Leon and everyone concludes he’s going to be an Oiler? Newsflash, he was in town because he was playing against some junior team in Edmonton. If Bennet was playing against the Oil Kings we would be talking about him like Leon…