Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Nail Yakupov steps into the bear trap, admits he'd rather not forecheck if possible, please?

Nail Yakupov is recognized as a singular talent, a player who reminds some of Pavel Bure.  He's also a bit of a wildcard, and has now fallen prey to the vagaries of expressing himself in a second language, and of being honest when speaking to reporters instead of reciting clichés.

Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins has reason not to be happy with his team's performance and to try different tactics to obtain better results.  One method he tried was sitting out Mr. Yakupov for a couple of games, possibly to send the youngster a message.  It seems the message was received loud and clear, but the end result may make Don Cherry swallow his tongue.

This is what the Oiler sophomore had to say, from an Edmonton Journal article by Joanne Ireland:

“I wasn’t happy about it last night,” said Yakupov. “You can say a million words about getting better but coach says I’m not playing, so I’m not playing.
“I’m not happy about it. I just want to play every game.
“I’m going to play my game,” he said. “I’m not going to change but maybe play better without the puck, or forecheck more, but I love playing with the puck. I really don’t like skating all the time, and forechecking, and hitting somebody every shift. I don’t think it’s my game.

Just to explore the other side of this issue, and stick up for the archetypal 'enigmatic lazy Russian', there’s some merit to the statement that he doesn’t like to play that style of game.

To take an example from a different sport, some offensive linemen are better at run-blocking than pass-blocking. Most prefer run-blocking because you get to beat on defensive players, as opposed to the reverse when you’re pass protecting. If a lineman says he doesn’t like a gameplan or Offensive Coordinator because they’re pass-oriented, it’s not a mortal failing, it’s just a preference. Whether that jibes with the team’s philosophy, whether he should be on another team’s roster is a valid question, but the statement itself is not that big a deal unless it’s said in an inflammatory or insulting way.

To take it back to hockey, if a Mike Bossy or Michael Ryder plays to his strengths, he may give the forechecking, finishing his checks angle less focus than lurking in the neutral or offensive zone, seeking to cut off a pass and take off in the other direction, or an open space where a teammate can feed him for a shot on net. Now some teams will accommodate for that. Then-Islanders GM Bill Torrey was told at the draft that there were two players left on the list for them to pick in the first round: “Mike Bossy, can score but can’t check, and Dwight Foster, can check but can’t score.”

He famously replied: “Get me the scorer, we’ll teach him how to check.”

So if an offensive player is stating a preference, or explaining that it would suit his skills better to not be a crasher and banger, but to prowl like a shark, maybe that makes sense. It might offend Don Cherry, but it may be true.

Mike Cammalleri had essentially the same complaint about the Jacques Martin system, that it was so defensive that the whole team was playing to not make mistakes, to defend, instead of trying to create, to score. His words came out wrong, he called it playing and practicing with a losing mentality. He was pilloried for it by lots of fans, after being traded in short order by his GM, but it makes sense that some players don’t like the style of play their coach advocates.

Look at the fascination with the “Coach Swap: Cross-Continent Edition” show, featuring John Tortorella and Alain Vigneault. The buzz at the start of the season was that the Canucks were too small and effete and sophisticated to play the brutish system demanded by Torts, with a heavy defensive bent and lots of shot blocking. Meanwhile, AV was supposed to release the shackles on Brad Richards, Rick Nash and Michael Del Zotto. The season is young and the results are different than expected, but it wasn’t heresy then to state that a team or certain players would thrive or suffer in a different system.

So it’s not that controversial a quote for me for young Mr. Yakupov to say he’s not all that into forechecking and bodychecking. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we got Alex instead of him, but this might just be the case of a kid who has a motormouth (remember his Twitter misadventures) who said something that is impolitic but true.

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