I’m stuck at the Regina airport, sitting through my first ever cancelled flight scenario. Getting up at 4:30 a.m. for a 6:15 flight, is never ideal, but after driving 45 KM from Moose Jaw to Regina, arriving at the airport at 5:20 a.m. and seeing your flight cancelled does not put a spring in your step. But with seven hours to kill I had some time to look at trade possibilities.
With Nail Yakupov and his agent Igor Larionov asking for permission from the Oilers to seek a trade in February, it is safe to assume the 2012 first overall pick will not return to Edmonton for a fifth season.
Which teams would be interested, and what is a realistic return?
I looked for teams who have skilled players who were in a similar situation to Yakupov. Players who, for various reasons, weren’t fitting in.
Valeri Nichuskin and the Dallas Stars
Nichushkin was the 10th overall pick in 2013. He tallied 14 goals and 34 points as a rookie in 2013/2014. He only played eight games (0-1-1) due to injury and he has nine goals and 27 points this year playing 13:54/game. He is averaging 0:55/game on the PP and the young forward expressed his frustration in an interview with SportsExpress.
Slava Malamud is a Russian reporter who covers the NHL and he translated this beauty quote from Nichuskin.
Nichushkin interview to @sportexpress: “Don’t know what I’ve done to Ruff. Won’t let me play. Hitting head against wall. Huge lump by now”
— Slava Malamud (@SlavaMalamud) March 28, 2016
Nichuskin is 6’4″ and 205 pounds. I’m sure the Stars are leery of trading him, but he’s clearly disgruntled and might ask to be moved. Lindy Ruff prefers playing veterans, and Yakupov will play his 250th NHL game this Saturday. He’ll enter his fifth NHL campaign next year, so he has some experience.
Both shoot left, both are skilled forwards, and both want a change of scenery. Nichushkin will be an RFA this summer and he has no arbitration rights. Yakupov has a $2.5 million cap hit next season. Nichushkin’s new deal will most likely be around $2 million so the money is close.
Yakupov has 49-59-108 in 249 games.
Nichushkin has 23-39-62 in 161 games.
Both players have the potential to be 20 goal-scorers, both have some deficiencies in their game, and both believe they should be playing more.
Would you make this trade? Would the Stars? Would the Oilers?
It is a deal worth considering for both sides, although I suspect Oilers would need to sweeten the offer. There is a risk neither will become the player scouts believed they would be on draft day, and the risk is equal for both teams that they player they trade could flourish in his new city.
Kevin Hayes and the New York Rangers
The Chicago Blackhawks selected Hayes 24th overall in 2010. He played four years at Boston College and after graduating in 2014 he choose free agency instead of siging with the Hawks. The Rangers signed him to a two-year deal.
He played 13:02/game (only :36/game on PP) as a rookie last season and scored 17 goals and 45 points in 79 games. This year he’s playing 13:36/game (1:34/game PP) and has 12-22-34 in 74 games. His coach, Alain Vigneault, recently said he wants more assertiveness and better defensive play from Hayes.
Hayes might simply be having sophomore slump, and even though he hasn’t been as productive as last year, he’s still been more productive than Yakupov. Hayes is also much bigger at 6’5″ and 225 pounds. He doesn’t play a physical game, but when he’s engaged his big frame allows him to make plays.
He is an RFA this summer, and his ELC had a base of $900,000, but with bonuses he had an AAV of $3.750 million.
The Rangers don’t have a first or a second round draft pick this year. The Oilers have a second and three third rounders, so they could add one of their third rounders.
Glen Sather isn’t the GM in New York anymore, but he’s the President and he’s always had a soft spot for skilled players. If the Rangers lose in the first round of the playoffs, general manager Jeff Gorton might be more inclined to make a move.
I think acquiring Hayes is more of a long shot than Nichushkin, and the Oilers would likely need to add a pick or a prospect to the deal, but Hayes hasn’t impressed the Rangers this season. They wouldn’t be the first team to trade a young player away after an sub-par season.
Jason Zucker and the Minnesota Wild
Zucker ( 5’11, 188) is very close in size to Nail Yakupov (5’11, 195). Zucker is a year older, but he’s played 164 games to Yakupov’s 249 after splitting his first two years between the NHL (41 games) and the AHL (77 games).
Zucker tallied 21-5-26 in 51 games last year (missed 31 due to injury), but he only has 13-10-23 in 66 games this season. He missed six games with a concussion in February, but he’s been a healthy scratch in four of the Wild’s previous eight games. He only had 2-2-4 in his previous 26 games. He has not been a fit with new head coach John Torchetti.
He is a RFA this summer and he was only a $900,250 cap hit. The Wild only have a first, fourth and two seventh round draft picks, so they should be in the market to acquire a draft pick this summer. Would Yak and a 2nd or 3rd do it?
The Ducks were interested at the deadline, and I’m sure Peter Chiarelli will re-visit those discussions this off-season. The Ducks have a lot of D-men, so Yakupov would be part of a package deal more than a one-on-one deal with them. If the Ducks have an early playoff exit, they will make some moves, and even if they have a deep run, they most likely will be trading one of their young defenders.
They already have six defenders (Fowler, Manson, Despres, Bieksa, Stoner and Theodore) under contract and need to sign Lindholm and Vatanen. I believe Vatanen will be available this summer.
Do you see any other plausible players a team would be willing to trade for Yakupov?
I believe there will be a market for him. You likely won’t get a proven veteran for Yakupov, unless he has an inflated contract, but Yakupov is only four years removed from being the first overall pick and some teams will believe he could produce in a different environment.
Would you make any of the aforementioned deals? Are their other players you believe the Oilers could move Yakupov for?
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