In a move that should surprise absolutely nobody, the Edmonton Oilers have signed 2012 1st overall pick Nail Yakupov to his three year Entry-Level Contract.
There had been some in the media questionning why there was a delay in signing Yakupov to his deal since the previous #1 overalls (Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) both signed much quicker in the off-season following their respective drafts.
I imagine that for some it was just a question of trying to drum up interest in an off-season that hasn't produced many Oiler headlines in the days since Justin Schultz and Ryan Smyth signed, however, there are some interesting things to ask about the decision to sign Yakupov to his entry-level deal now.
The basis for most of this intrigue does not revolve around Yakupov's nationality or his desire to play in the NHL or specifically in Edmonton, but rather with regard to the impending new CBA that will take effect before NHL hockey resumes (whenever that may be).
I speak from no insider knowledge on this matter, simply my own personal observations and assumptions, but I would imagine that the reason that Yakupov didn't sign his deal in the first week of July was simply that both sides likely wanted to have a look at the early negotiations between the NHL and the NHLPA.
For the Oilers, the NHL's recent proposal which included extending entry-level contracts to 5 years in length may have given them pause to re-think the decision to sign Yakupov prior to a new collective bargaining agreement being finalized. The appeal of having a potential franchise player at a reasonably low cost for an additional two years is certainly enough to make you think over your options.
That said, I can certainly see why both sides felt that the right move was to sign the deal now. For the player, if he waits out the new CBA and there is an extension of the ELC time frame then it would delay his opportunity to cash in on his big pay day by an additional two years. For both selfish monetary reasons and due to concerns that an injury could occur at any time and rob him of his ability to reap the real profits fom his abilities, it makes sense to start that clock counting down towards his second contract as soon as possible.
For the team, the attractiveness of having Yakupov at an entry-level cap hit for an additional two years would likely be negated by concerns over the KHL. To be clear, this is not to say that any such concerns were significant at the time of the draft or that Yakupov's word that his dream is to play in the NHL is not trustworthy, simply that a change in circumstances could cause the young player to reconsider his options just as the Oilers were likely doing.
If the NHL extends its ELCs to five year terms and the Oilers had waited to sign Yakupov, that means he will now be 23 before he could potentially start to see the type of dollars that many of the elite forwards in the NHL earn. With that knowledge, if a KHL team were to make him a multi-million dollar contract offer to play in his home country and begin earning upwards of $7 Million+/yr. at 18, a full five years sooner, I can't imagine he wouldn't have to at least consider that option. For the Oilers, who stated they had no fear of Yakupov signing in the KHL at the time of the draft, getting his name on a contract before the dynamics of the game change and make the Kontinental Hockey League look a lot more attractive makes a lot of sense.
With Yakupov now in the fold, the Oilers boast among the most offensively gifted collections young players in recent memory and while there are certainly numerous holes to be filled it is unquestionable that long-term (and quite possibly short-term as well) they will be a better team with him than without him.
Now that all of the uncertainty has been taken out of the equation, everyone can get back to building their fantasy line combinations and mistakenly placing Yakupov (a rookie with 0 games of NHL experience) higher on the depth chart than Ales Hemsky.