A Few Words

Shovels down. The deed finally over, we look around with mild amounts of shame in our eyes. The deafening silence only serves to build the tension. Somebody has to say something but everyone’s gaze is crawling the ground. Fine. I guess someone should say something. It’s the least he deserved.

Standing over the corpse of Nail Yakupov’s Oiler career that we just buried in the dead of night, I am struck by a few thoughts. One is, of course, regret. Surely we all wish things had turned out differently. Nail Yakupov was drafted first overall in 2012 amidst so much controversy. He was the consensus top player in the draft per every major scouting service in the country, but even then a large contingent of the Oilers braintrust didn’t want to take him. They were now famously overruled from above. Fast forward a few years and seems everybody lost that day.

After his first season the “I told you so’s” we hear now were sheepishly tucked away out of ear shot. Nail Yakupov had led all NHL rookies in scoring and was Edmonton’s top goal scorer. He was a scoring winger on the rise after one season in the books. But, it didn’t take long for the contingent of Oiler brass who desperately needed to be right about Yakupov to get their chance to gloat.

Within the first weeks of new head coach Dallas Eakins’ tenure, the enigmatic *wink* Russian winger was a healthy scratch. He was off of the scoring line and told to learn the finer points of the game away from the puck. Earn that ice time, kid. If you really want it then master the swarm first. Unfortunately for him this exercise proved to be nothing more than extended torture.

Yak seemingly never recovered. The Oilers stopped developing a top six player and started developing a bottom six one when they committed to playing number 10 away from offensively minded players. The Edmonton Oilers played him in the bottom six for three seasons and over that time he was the fouth highest scoring player for the team and by far the highest scoring player in his role (highest points per game by a wide margin from 2013-2016 with 20+ games and less than 15 minutes per game), but he wasn’t being judged by his role any longer. 

Nail Yakupov’s greatest failing as a first overall pick in Edmonton was not living up offensively to the feats performed by fellow former top pick Taylor Hall. Where Hall could make something out of nothing, Yakupov needed to play with capable players. Where Hall could and would transport the puck from his own zone to the attacking net, Yak was better as the trigger man or at least after the puck crossed the red line with possession. Without a centerman who could move the puck effectively he was on an island.

Although the on-ice results showed that Yakupov was doing a better job every year equalizing the ratio of shot attempts for and against when he was playing, he never did shake the reputation for major blunders he earned as a young pro. It was sometimes painful to see him miss his assignments when he was still a teenager in the NHL. Despite the fact that those major blunders became less frequent, they remained part of his identity for fans and media alike.

He wasn’t a perfect player. Far from it. But by the time he played his final game as an Oiler, Nail Yakupov was at the very least an average middle six forward. That’s not what they wanted when they drafted him, but it is what they trained him to be from the Eakins era forward. Andrew Berkshire wrote about Yak here and provided the chart below in that same article. In terms of offensive impact, Nail Yakupov was better than average.

He wasn’t as bad as most seemed to assert. Unfortunately the damage was done from the perspective of both parties. They needed a change. I won’t pretend to like the trade or even say it was necessary. Not at a time when the Oilers could have placed Yakupov in a chance to succeed for more than a 10 game stretch. At worst he would continue to struggle with one of McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins, Draisaitl, or Caggiula as a center. At best he starts to show more teams that he can still be productive in the right situation.

I can’t change my spots on this one. I will cheer for Yakupov in his new home. I wish this young man who moved his family from across the globe to Edmonton nothing but the best. I hope the charitable kid who would quietly feed the homeless and bought food and drinks for the attendant staff succeeds in the NHL somewhere else. I saw the best in this maligned winger. I haven’t apologized for that yet and I probably never will. Take that as a reason to rip me if you want. I’ll be fine.

We buried Yakupov’s Oiler career unceremoniously last night. The only grave marker we have is a third round pick in next year’s draft and the mound of fresh dirt his detractors will only visit to gloat about their victory over. Things could have been different but they weren’t. Things could have been better but they never will be. It’s over now. That’s the best we can say about this situation. It’s finally over.

Goodbye, Nail Yakupov. I hope your next home is kinder to you than this one was. I hope hockey becomes fun for you again.

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  • Randaman

    The fact that we didn’t have to retain any of Yaks salary is a win considering his value around the league. That’s why the Chicago deal didn’t happen.

    Good job PC

    • Spydyr

      The “Oilers Braintrust”:

      What position do we have too many players at…LHD. Great lets go get another.

      Now perhaps there is a trade in the works. One hopes.

      • Harry2

        How many of those LHD’s are veteran competent top 4 dmen? Klef and sekera thats it. Since when is depth a bad thing?

        The worst defensive team of the past 10 years and your whining about adding a proven top 4 dman. Get a clue

          • Harry2

            He played top 4 minutes for the best team in the west last season along with lots of pp time so yes I think hes a top 4 dman. I think him and sekera form a good 2nd pairing. Worst case he becomes a 3rd pairing guy and davidson or nurse slide up.

            Like I said depth and options are always good.

          • Drew R. Fan

            I don’t understand why this gets trashed? Its absolutely bang on. Anybody that doesn’t think Russell is a top 4 dman especially on the oilers is absolutely looney tunes. He can play both sides and is a shot blocking machine. The oilers haven’t had a shot blocker of this caliber since gator. Just not as tough.

          • Joy S. Lee

            I wonder if it’s not more related to the asset management part. It is the leftorium, after all, so we go out and spend the budget on… an older LEFT defenseman?

            I hear he can play both sides, as can Sekera, but they are likely both superior on their natural side, yes? So we are putting them into a position to fail.

            If it’s the calm before the storm, and they intend to turn some lefties into a rightie, then I can see my way clear on this one. But if this is just a stabilizing move, then I don’t fully comprehend it. Heard that Yak only wanted to practice/work on areas he already excelled in, and not at all on the areas where his challenges were. That would be a big knock against him, for certain, but in the overall scheme of things, wouldn’t this same logic apply to the organization principally practicing that same action?

          • Harry2

            Its because people wanted Hall for Drew Doughty straight up. Fact is Chiarelli has dramatically improved the makeup of this team and he did it by making some very tough decisions.

            One thing a lot of us are forgetting is MacLellan had a full season to evaluate his team both on and off the ice and im quite sure he informed Chiarelli of his opinions on who is expendable (Hall)

        • OmJo

          How many top 4 LHD do we need exactly? Russell won’t be outplaying Sekera or Klefbom, or even Davidson for that matter. $3.1M for a 4LD is a bit much, no?

          Last I checked, we only have 1 top 4 RHD. Well unless you play Fayne with Sekera, which won’t happen now. Playing a LHD on his off side, when that LD is Russell (who tends to make whoever he’s paired with worse than they are) isn’t the answer.

          Gryba, while lacking offensive upside, would have a) been much more fitting to team need (the whole reason we gave Hall away) and b) come at a third of the price. If not Gryba, why not Wisniewski? He’s RHD, and has more offensive upside than both. Would be a good, veteran option for the third pairing. And would have been cheaper.

          But no, instead we have a player we don’t actually need at a price nobody was willing to pay for him, because Keith Gretzky likes him.

  • toprightcorner

    We have to remember not to blame the Chairelli group for the handling of Yak. He was broken long before his arrival. The blame is solely at the feet of Tambo, Lowe, MacT and Eakins.

    I get that with a new GM, PC had no loyalty to Yak and like all management changeovers, there are players that just don’t fit into their plans and obviously Yak didn’t. I am fine with that.

    I am fine with Yak being traded, I am fine with what they got for him, they got more then they got for Hemsky and with 15 goals it could improve. I am fine that the current regime didn’t invest time on a player that they didn’t break.

    What I am not fine with is that MacT and Lowe still have connections to this team and they are the culprits to the debacle we have been forced to endure for the past 7 years.

    I wish Yak and his family all the luck in StL. He is a good kid, he worked hard and he tried based on the linemates he was given.

    One think we can’t forget that in the past 2 drafts, Yak likely would not have been ranked in the top 10. That draft class was the weakest in probably 20 years so comparing a 1st picks of Yak to Hall to Nuge to McDavid isn’t fair to any of them.

    • a lg dubl dubl

      I’m ok with Lowe employed by the Oilers away from Hockey Ops “per say”, but what I am hoping for is MacT no longer in the assistant GM spot(along with Keith Gretzky). The only reason I can see why he’s still in that chair is because of his contract, one more year I believe, maybe Katz didn’t want to keep paying guys not to be employed by the team, see coaches.

      Hope the best for Yak, he was defensively inept no doubt, but hope he scores 15 this year with Tarasenko!

      Looking at the roster, even with head scratcher trades and some signings, PC does have this team closer to playoffs than MacT ever could dream of.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    Yakapov for Wideman would have netted the Oilers a better result going into this new season. He’s a RHD, better defensively and a threat on the PP. The only negative from San Oiler perspective is that it would give Calgary immediate cap space. On the other hand, signing Russell gives Flames fans a year supply of gasoline to pour all over angry Oiler fans.

  • Dan 1919

    Many are critical of Chiarelli lately. He came in and walked with the Oilers for his first season, gave a few quick jabs and a nice cut that everyone enjoyed as he got rid of Shultz. What Chiarelli was well aware of as he joined the Oilers walk is that they were being drug along in 29th place behind the pack. Many fans had forgotten about this because they were just use to the rope dragging them now, and they no longer realized how useless they’d become. Peter didn’t say much, but he knew where they were. Not long ago, he was at the front of the walk pushing the pace with Boston.
    Then this summer came, Peter had now seen enough from his quiet walk alongside the disgusting organization. He didn’t say much, but the whole walk his disgust grew, so it was without surprise to the wise that he pulled his dagger from his holster and shoved it straight in the back of the Oilers and ripped the blade downward, trading Taylor Hall. The Shultz cut started to bleed again, as did other small cuts from other fringe NHL players he traded. The Oilers are on their knees, clearly dyeing from Peter’s blade. Many fans are upset as they thought their team that could no longer walk would someday sore up front again with the Blackhawks and stride with the Penguins. Surely this Oilers team won’t now though, they are ruined. Then to the surprise of many who still could not understand what Peter was doing, he delivered the final blow. While the stinking Oilers were down on all fours, Peter kicked the pathetic Oilers as hard as he could right in their rotten teeth, he had just traded Nail away for nothing. The Oilers let out one last grunt as they fell sideways and laid in the muddy dirt. The Oilers were officially dead.

    What most fans had failed to notice though was that Peter had picked up a few of the tools that the deceased Oilers had dropped along the walk from last season, and kept them in his backpack. Peter now unpacked his bag and the first thing out was a McDavid jersey with a C on it. A few old Oiler tools such as RNH, Eberle, Draisaitl.

    Peter has killed the old Oilers and their culture, this new shiny group of tools now still stands at the back of the walk, but free from the burdens and ropes and rotten joints of the old Oilers. Will they progress up through the ranks? We’ll have to wait and see. But one thing is clear, Peter has killed the old Oilers and left them behind this offseason, for better or worse.

    • whateverhappenedtoearledwards

      It won’t be that cut and dry. Henderson whined about the Hall trade for 2 months and I’l bet every time Hall or Yak get even a 2nd assist we will hear about it.

  • OilDude

    Nice pity party Henderson, did you drive him to the airport,hold his hand maybe.There are lots of high draft choices that don’t make it maybe Yak is one of them.I don’t see a capable NHL player and the Oilers wasted a first overall on him and sometimes the eyeball test is better than a bunch of fancy stats that mean very little,and I always like how you and stats guys never bring up the -88

  • Little Buttcheeks

    Hard not to wonder if things might have been different had we kept Ralph Krueger or if that linesman hadn’t taken Yakupov down. I’ve always liked Yakupov and will continue to cheer for him in St. Louis. He brings a passion for the game but it wasn’t going to work out in Edmonton unfortunately. Hopefully this is a break up that works out best for both parties.

    • whateverhappenedtoearledwards

      With the performance of team Europe and Yak’s rookie performance one wonders if Kruger might be the best coach ever (or at least the best coach ever to be fired via Skype).

  • Drew R. Fan

    Even tho I’ve been ripping yak lately, well pretty much since he asked for a trade, I also was excited when the oilers called his name. And I would scream at Dallas Eakins when he decided to turn yak into a checking winger. But yak just couldn’t find that 2nd gear. I hope he has a long NHL career but I could see hitch dropping the hammer on him if he doesn’t take the next step. In saying all that, I am absolutely giddy about the moves chia made today. NOW the oilers defence looks like an NHL defence! Get well soon Brandon! Cannot wait till Wednesday!

  • Joy S. Lee

    Wonderfully articulated, well done. Couldn’t agree more. Yakupov is ultimately responsible, but the Oilers’ organization should be completely ashamed of themselves.

  • fran huckzky

    I can’t remember if the quote was from Rishaug or Dreger but they asked Yak in camp what he had done in the off season to improve his game. Yak replied that nothing changed and he did what he had always done in the past. Good bye Yak and good luck with Hitch. Give Henderson a box of Kleenex.

  • M22

    Your worst article ever on this site, Matt. Waayy over the top on melodrama, completely devoid of objectivity, shameless display of statistical cherry-picking. And not a single mention of Todd McLellan’s attempts to salvage something from the train wreck that is Yakupov’s game.

    I assume you trust McLellan is a competent coach, yes? Do you think Todd was not in agreement with the decision to move Yak, or do you believe, as I do, that his analysis of the player was not a favorable one, and therefore more than happy to move on from this stubborn player. We’re not in the boardroom, but I’m pretty sure he had a say in the decision to trade him.

    And this quote from you:

    “Nail Yakupov’s greatest failing as a first overall pick in Edmonton was not living up offensively to the feats performed by fellow former top pick Taylor Hall”. Wrong – his failing was not having the first clue what to do with the other 59 minutes and 58 seconds when he wasn’t shooting the puck.

    Nail Yakupov’s career went sideways – this much we can all agree on – part of it is at the feet of the past management regime who did everything wrong, and part of it is on Yakupov. But, Matt Henderson and many of Yak’s supporters want to point the finger anywhere but at Nail, and chalk it up to some bizarre compulsion by the current coaching staff to twist the knife in his career.

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    Lots of blame to go around (management, agents, the player, a revolving door of coaches), but let’s lay down some TRUTH:
    – Nail is by all accounts a good kid. Sincerely hope he finds success.
    – Nail is not a complete player. Probably never will be.
    – 2012 was an unusually weak draft year.
    – The fans are not at fault. At all. They supported the player. They can only take so much losing.
    – Now is a good time to move on. For everyone.

    • ubermiguel

      No doubt he’s a solid human being. I’ll add one piece of truth: 50% of the time the #1 pick ends up not being the best player drafted that year (I looked through a few decades of drafts once to figure this out). On “weak” draft years this is almost always the case.

  • not so daily doug

    The more I look at what chia did in signing Russel the more I think he has more irons in the fire.
    Trouba? Vatanen? 2 RH D that havent signed on teams that could use a bigger (Nurse?) LD.
    He seems to be lining up the left side to blow a few out. And it could be a Davidson or a Nurse plus to obtain either of those 2 or even someone else. We are down to the call-ups in the forward department, so I think we see a name defenceman replaced.

  • running on empty

    thanks to matt henderson, a good and necessary article…

    funny what pushes you over the edge, sometimes what seem like the smallest things, but over the edge you go…

    over 40 years an oiler fan, 3 times a season ticket holder, and now in 24 hours I’m gone

    one can hardly thank the team and oilers nation enough, the best of memories

    I think yak came to represent something special for alot of people in town, not for what he did, but for what you imagined he might do if given a fair chance…

    he came along at the right time, breathing a whisper of life back into some of us fans who had long since given up on the organization…the bozos who had destroyed the heritage we treasured

    seeing yak dumped yesterday was like saying goodbye to the part of being an oilers fan that mattered, one’s love for the speed and imagination and daring of the boys on the bus…

    you kept hoping things would turn out that way for him but they never did…

    now what? the oilers as the bruins of the west? big guys who don’t get pushed around? pity poor mcdavid

    anyway, I’m outta here

    sail on yak, my love of the game goes with you, out onto the cruel cruel sea…

    • The Last Of Barrett's Privateers

      At 40 years old the player that pushes you over the deep end as a fan is Yakupov?? Really!

      I liked this kid, cheered like hell for him, and I stood up for him when the MSM ripped him about his celly at center ice…….Myself, I thought it whole appropriate given the circumstances.

      Having said that, this is a business, not only is it a business, it’s an entertainment business. I want to be entertained. I don’t know about you, but it’s not entertaining to continue watching this team being in last place.

      The team has to continue to improve; they have to trade out weaker players for better players or even players of need.

      I’m sure if you can get over, Gretzky, Messier, Anderson and Fuhr, I’m sure you’re going to be just fine………… step off the ledge.

    • Dreadguy

      Above where I am typing right now it says “Comments are moderated. Pretend your mom is reading over your shoulder.” If my Mom read the comment quoted above, she would say something like: “what a p*ssy, Oil country is better off without you. Don’t let the door hit you in the *ss on the way out”. Oh and… Connor McDavid.

  • animalfarm

    Landon Ferraro placed on waivers. (St Louis Post Dispatch)
    Chased out by the guy his dad said “played like he’s being chased by a swarm of bees”. Bitter-sweet irony. Luv it.

      • animalfarm

        From St Louis Post-Dispatch:

        “After acquiring Yakupov in Friday’s trade, the Blues made a corresponding move Saturday morning. Yakupov gives them 15 forwards, and they’re expected to keep 14, so Landon Ferraro was placed on waivers.”

        Ironically enough, this seems to have some connection to acquiring Yak.

  • Deke Rivers

    Listen not all players fit with teams. Being a #1 doesn’t guarantee that this player will fit into a respective teams system or culture. There has also been plenty of examples of ex-Oilers who defected from Edmonton for greener pastures just to fizzle out and disappear.
    Yak just didn’t fit. There’s no shame in that. Skip the emotional attachments. He may very well go somewhere else and succeed. He may fail miserably and go back to Russia. But why keep him here, pay him, just to continue to have him underperform? Whether the underperformance is his fault, coaching, management, weather, his parents, or whatever. Professional sports is tough. The reality is we should have pulled the trigger sooner. Everyone saw this wasn’t working after year 2.
    He’s gone and that’s good for both sides. Oilers and Yak. It’s not personal it’s business. Good luck. The key will be who replaces him and do they bring more to the Oilers system and play then Yak did? if they do then it’s a win for everyone.

  • Cowbell_Feva

    Bahaha
    Oh my god. If you read that and had never watched an Oiler game that #10 played in, you would swear that he was never given the chance to shine. He was a healthy scratch because the organization that drafted him to be the best player on the planet in his age group….well….they just didn’t want him to play.
    He got put as a bottom 6 forward for a reason. Because he couldn’t play with the best on this Oilers team. He can’t play defensively.
    I literally watched him against Nashville 2 years ago live, end up on the wrong wing twice in one game breaking out of their defensive zone. The correct winger looked at him like WTF?!?

  • Cowbell_Feva

    Nail Yakupov brought bad junior habits to the NHL and couldn’t break them. He couldn’t translate the production to the next level.
    Sorry Henderson but throw out whatever stats you want, but Yakupov has been a bust. For one simple reason….he did not produce.
    Playing for Hitch doesn’t give me any inclination that he will be given much leash if any.
    I don’t think I have ever seen an NHL player go offside or cause more offsides in my life!!

    BTW. We did get something. His name is Kris Russell and he resembles an actual NHL defenseman.
    Winning!

  • DXB

    Amazing to see how polarizing a player this guy was. No question he had an infectious passion for the game that all fans could appreciate. Problem, in my view, was he had the worst “positional ADHD” I have ever seen. I hope he is able to slow his thought process under Hitch and find quiet areas in the high slot to unload that bomb he has. Fact of the matter is that there is no reason to believe that will ever happen at the NHL level. Consensus seems to be all fans wish him the best, I concur.

  • TyeDye

    My fiery hatred for Eakins/MacTavish/Katz came screaming back reading this article. What a stupid hire Eakins was. And what a horrible coach Eakins was. I think Kruger was great, but that’s not the point. Eakins, whoever he may have been replacing, set this organization back by a mile.

    On the flip side. We wouldn’t have gotten McDavid. Its dizzying to think about. I hate Eakins and what he did to this team and these players so much, but because of it we have gotten the next generational player. I suppose in the long haul we won. But the casualties along the way are players like Yakupov. They don’t deserve it. They all tried to win for us and management did nothing but create obstacle after obstacle. I’ll be cheering for Hall, I’ll be cheering for Yak, and I will put another pin in the Eakins voodoo doll.