The Oilers and the Yakupov Problem

USATSI_9204734_154158418_lowresIt’s painfully safe to say that things have broken down between the Edmonton Oilers and Nail Yakupov.

News began to emerge on Sunday that the Russian forward had asked for a trade prior to the NHL trade deadline on February 29. The 22-year-old said he was given permission to speak to other teams and that eight other NHL clubs were interested in his services, but “something went wrong.”

Regardless, asking for a trade is one of hockey’s cardinal sins. It’s a symptom of something going horribly wrong behind-the-scenes.

Throughout Sunday, various thinkpieces emerged in the media – local and beyond – to distance the Oilers from Yakupov. There was talk of how Edmonton got it wrong by drafting him in the first place, how Ryan Murray was supposed to be the favourite going into the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, how he “doesn’t have a clue where he’s going.”

Accurate as such reports may be, it’s hard not to chuckle at how predictably this narrative has played out.

And now Yakupov has gone into damage control.

“My agent [Igor Larionov] and the team had discussions about it, but I don’t know any details,” he said on Monday. “That’s it. I’m still here, I’m still playing for the Edmonton Oilers and I’m just focusing on my game right now. I didn’t go upstairs and ask for a trade.”

Obviously, the Oilers have long been out of playoff contention this season. They were probably out of playoff contention back in October, but this time it’s different. Patience has run out in Edmonton and general manager Peter Chiarelli is expected to make some serious moves, including the moves he couldn’t or didn’t make at the trade deadline.

Yakupov’s relationship with the team has been on the decline since 2013-2014, when he didn’t exactly get along with then-coach Dallas Eakins. The Oilers have reportedly been trying to move him since then, but the market hasn’t been kind.

The general agreement is that Yakupov needs a “fresh start,” what with a revolving door of coaches and general managers not exactly helping provide stability for the still-young player.

In 248 games with Edmonton so far, Yakupov has 107 points. It’s safe to say he’s underperformed, at least in terms of what’s expected of a first overall draft pick. In 56 games this season, he has just 19 points.

It’s easy to knock on Yakupov for not living up to lofty expectations. And it’s easy to knock the Oilers’ brain trust for not drafting the right player at the right time. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle and, at this point, it’s probably best for all involved parties to cut and run as soon as possible.

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