For years I’ve been on the Nail Yakupov For Cheap bandwagon, thinking we could swindle the Oilers out of an electric talent, kind of like .9 of a Pavel Bure, and once he got in the Canadiens organization, with our famously ‘best room in the NHL’ and no-nonsense coaching staff and GM, playing wing alongside best bud Alex Galchenyuk, he’d magically straighten and fly right and challenge Alex Ovechkin for the Art Ross trophy.
Our ace in the hole, which I kept bringing up, was that we had inside info, with Alex himself, sure, but also with Papa Galchenyuk, who was a coach on the Sarnia Sting when Alex and Nail were there. So all we had to do was vet Nail through our Galchenyuk filter, and when he got the thumbs up, we’d throw a second-rounder and Patrick Holland at the Oilers, and they’d like it, and that would be that.
Risk free. Galchenyuk-approved.
And a couple years later, with Nail still dangling out there, with his sticker price reportedly dropping all the time, with no takers, I wondered why Marc Bergevin wouldn’t pull the trigger. We need the scoring talent, need the Top 6 help, so get your butt in gear, ask the Galchenyuks, get the okay, get them to vouch for him, and then make the deal. What’s taking so long? What’s so hard about this? Reunite the best bros.
Recently, it’s slowly dawned on me that maybe this has happened, this conversation was held, and the Galchenyuks told Marc Bergevin “Not with a ten ruble pole.” It’s kind of smacked me upside the head, that the reason the trade hasn’t happened is that Marc Bergevin and his staff have done their due diligence, not because they’ve been shirking it. The vetting just didn’t go so good.
One of the steps that led me there was the quote about Nail playing as if he was being chased by a swarm of bees. It wasn’t meant as a compliment I believe, and would fly against Michel Therrien’s preference that players be positionally sound, be defensively responsible, that whole swarm of bees haphazard style.
Another inkling is, and I’m reaching a little bit here, that way way back, maybe even before the draft, or shortly after, when an article was written about the twosome and how they related in Sarnia, Alex tossed off a remark that Nail can be annoying at times, saying that “he’s always coming to me to ask how you say something in English, and I yell at him to stop coming to me and check the dictionary.” At the time, I folded it into my picture of Alex kibitzing with Gally, how those two are always squabbling, always in poker-face, but always good-naturedly, so it was just two kids rolling their eyes at each other.
Now, viewed through the lens of all the reports about teammates and coaches working with Nail, assuring all how their relationship is great, how he’s coming along, maturing, paying attention to conditioning now, how he loves it in Edmonton, maybe it’s more of a snapshot of who he is, someone who’s not quick on the uptake, who needs lots of attention, who grates on you.
So with all that dimestore psychology to back me up, I’m advising against the acquisition of Nail Yakupov. If we hadn’t signed Alex Radulov, if Artturi Lehkonen wasn’t showing as well in camp, maybe we’d be desperate and have to roll the dice, but in our current situation, he’s a needless risk to take.
And it makes me wonder how many players do lose their careers because they get drafted into the wrong organization, with the wrong coaching staff, the wrong situation. Are the Oilers in a bad way because their draft picks aren’t panning out, or are their picks not panning out because they’re in such a bad way? Is it like a quarterback getting drafted by Green Bay and getting to sit and learn behind Brett Favre, or getting picked instead by the Jaguars or Browns and being thrown to the wolves, and the same player suffers two vastly different fates based on which universe he’s in. Would Taylor Hall be a mondo mega-star now if he’d been 2nd overall and gone to Boston, while Tyler Seguin would be a well-compensated mess in Edmonton?