It’s an interesting, unsettled time for the Oilers’ franchise as new general manager Peter Chiarelli settles in and remakes the team in his preferred image. We don’t know what that image is or who will be sacrificed in its creation, and the rumour mill to-date has been all over the map and not so reliable.
Still, it stands to reason that Nail Yakupov should probably be more unsettled than many of his teammates.
Yakupov is of course no stranger to trade rumours, so this weekend’s report out of Pittsburgh linking him to talks with the Penguins organization must be taken with the same grain of salt as previous dispatches. It’s also worth noting the total lack of chatter leading up to the Griffin Reinhart and Lauri Korpikoski trades; Chiarelli took some justifiable glee over the draft weekend in the fact that Reinhart conversations had been ongoing for some time but had not been reported in the press.
The shift in management and restructuring of the organization has, for the moment at least, apparently plugged some of the leaks in the good ship Oiler.
Even with those caveats as to the reliability of printed rumour it’s worth at least wandering down the path of a Yakupov trade and reasoning on its likelihood and the probable return in the event it’s consummated.
We know that Chiarelli is unafraid to take risks. It’s a quality I truly admire in the man; he’ll trade Phil Kessel or Tyler Seguin if he thinks it’s in the best interests of his team. He gets criticized a lot (including by me) for the Seguin deal, but it’s wrong to look at that trade in isolation from the Kessel deal which originally spawned. But I digress: the point here is that Chiarelli would likely have little compunction about trading the 2012 first overall pick if he felt it was in the best interests of his team.
Would it be?
Late season explosion aside (his final 30 games were the best hockey he’s played as an Oiler, far better than his shooting percentage-fueled rookie campaign) Yakupov has largely been an albatross throughout his entry-level deal. He’s been given sheltered minutes and the Oilers have been stomped when he’s on the ice for most of his career. He hasn’t come close to scoring enough to make up for it; his presence on the team has been damaging to the club’s on-ice results.
But he’s also a special player in a lot of ways. He started coming around in February and by March he was exceptional at five-on-five, one of the team’s most consistently effective forwards. If that’s him turning a corner, if that 30-game run represents his actual level of ability going forward, than that’s a player well worth keeping. He’s 21 years old, he’s on a modest contract for two seasons and he’s under team control for two more seasons after that.
Trading him would remove a question mark from the team and allow the Oilers to button down one of those wing positions, taking a lot of uncertainty from the forward position. It would also mean sacrificing that potential.
In the right deal, such a trade might make sense. It might particularly make sense if a young player were coming the other way. Using the Pittsburgh example, there’s probably a deal to be built around Yakupov-for-Derrick Pouliot that would make sense for the Oilers; like Yakupov Pouliot was a 2012 draftee and bringing a player of that age aboard would be palatable under the right conditions.
In contrast, trading for someone like Brandon Sutter would make no sense at all. Five years older than Yakupov, Sutter has already peaked and that peak isn’t that impressive. He’s a decent checking line forward whose scoring rate over the last three years is a touch shy of Jay Beagle’s; it would be a little like trading Yakupov for a younger version of Boyd Gordon. He’s also a free agent next summer.
Basically, it comes down to this: Yakupov isn’t untouchable. But there’s a lot of potential there and many years of team control, so if he goes the Oilers had better make sure they’re getting a player back who at least stands a chance of being a comparable long-term asset.
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