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Never Say Never, But Yakupov Isn't Getting Traded

Hockey fans in Edmonton know very well that any player can be traded, but right now I'd say it's unlikely that Nail Yakupov is going anywhere.

Derek Leung

Last night instead of watching the Oilers game, my wife and I enjoyed a nice dinner at Corso 32 (I highly recommend the fried short rib), meaning I missed the big news of the evening, that of course being TSN Insider Darren Dreger saying that he thinks it's "unlikely" that Nail Yakupov will be back with the Oilers next season. Thanks to David Staples' write up at the Cult of Hockey we have Dreger's full comments:

I would say it’s unlikely that he’s an Edmonton Oiler next season. So it makes sense that they’ll try and move him. They were trying to move him at various points this season. Word is out that Nail Yakupov is available. The problem is, no one really wants him. Certainly not for the value that the Edmonton Oilers are going to need to get back in return.

And you can see why. He had opportunities in this game early on. He scored one goal in his last 11 games. He was on the ice late in the game when the Blues scored to tie the hockey game. He’s an NHL worst -30. He lacks commitment. He thinks that skill is enough to be an NHL player. And the unfortunate reality for Nail Yakupov is that, yes, he’s a skilled player, but not an elite level skill player. And until he finds a way to absorb the message, the market on Nail Yakupov isn’t going to be great. They might have to package him with a collection of assets to get something better in return.

Dreger is certainly right that Yakupov has struggled. The -30 that was mentioned is actually now -33 after Yakupov was on the ice for three goals in last two periods of the Oilers loss to the Blues last night. I'm not going to argue that Yakupov hasn't struggled this season, that said plus/minus might not be the best way to illustrate the problem. Yakupov's on-ice save percentage is the second lowest in the NHL this season, that's a lot of bad luck, and that more than anything is driving down his plus/minus. It's certainly not as bad as it looks.

I'm not looking to defend Yakupov though, his play is what it is. What I am interested in is the idea of a trade. Craig MacTavish is going to have a very busy summer ahead of him if he plans to transform this Oilers team into something resembling a playoff caliber hockey team. Part of that will in all likelihood involve a trade or two, so it's not impossible that Yakupov could be a piece the Oilers are looking to move. The problem is, and Dreger touches on this, the Oilers simply won't be able to get enough back in return to justify making a move.

MacTavish's history doesn't indicate that he's a make a trade for the sake of making a trade kind of guy. Look back at what he said last summer when discussing trading Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff; he made it clear then that the team was "not in a position that we're going to be able to move them without getting something substantial in return." In the end he got very little for Horcoff other than some salary cap flexibility but that in itself is valuable. And with Hemsky he waited because there wasn't a deal that he felt provided enough benefit to the team. If he doesn't think he's getting full value for Yakupov I would expect him to do the exact same thing.

When it comes to making trades you ideally would like to buy low and sell high. The problem that MacT is going to face this summer is that he's got nothing to sell high. What Oilers have exceeded expectations this season? It's a very short list: David Perron and Boyd Gordon. You can probably add Ben Scrivens name to that list too even though he only just arrived. Outside of those three though there aren't any other players that MacT is going to be able to sell high on. That's part of the problem with being a garbage hockey club, all your players look like garbage by association and making trades for something of equal value becomes just a little bit tougher.

Tough or not though, MacTavish is going to have to make some trades this summer. I have my doubts that he can do enough in one summer to fix all that is wrong with the Oilers, but he's got to at least try. And so far I would say that he's much more willing to make a move than he predecessor was. Look at how he responded to the team's goaltending issues: Dubnyk/LaBarbera → Dubnyk/Bryzgalov → Scrivens/Bryzgalov → Scrivens/Fasth. There are no guarantees that a Scrivens/Fasth tandem will give the Oilers even average goaltending next season, but I think the risk is worth the potential reward.

Balancing risk and reward is something I think MacTavish has done a very good job of in his first 11 months at the helm of the Oilers. You might not like the signings of Denis Grebeshkov or Anton Belov, but in terms of risk/reward I think the moves were quite reasonable. Trading Magnus Paajarvi for a player with a history of concussions carried some risk but there was enough upside in the move that it was hard to criticize at the time, and given Perron's play this season you'd have to be crazy to criticize it now. That's not to say every move has been good - trying to sign David Clarkson for example - but generally speaking I've liked the process so far. Reasonable risks are just fine by me.

Getting back to Yakupov, he's 631 days removed from being the first pick in the 2012 Entry Draft and has only played in 109 NHL games. Even by snap judgement standards it's a little early to make a decision on him as a player. The last five and a half months have not been good for him, but we've all seen what he can do, and we know the potential is there. Will he reach that potential or does he "lack commitment" as Dreger suggested? Only time will tell. Moving him between now and next season would be a very risky move though, and given MacTavish's track record so far, that doesn't seem like the kind of risk I would expect him to take on.

Oilers fans know that anyone can be traded, but right now I highly doubt that Yakupov's days are numbered in Edmonton.