On Oct. 16, the Buffalo News, which contrary to Dallas Eakins’ contention doesn’t publish from my mother’s basement, reported that the Edmonton Oilers and the Buffalo Sabres were talking trade and that Nail Yakupov could be the centerpiece from the Albertan side of the equation.
Three weeks to the day after that report shook up the hockey world, the Oilers finally confirmed that Yakupov wasn’t on the trading block.
Hopefully he didn’t get whiplash while twisting in the wind.
“I wanted to also let him know that all of these reports in the media – the people that are making up trades for him – are absolutely, 100 percent untrue. This kid is not going anywhere.
“Guys like Joe Thornton, the kid here Stamkos, those guys struggled early in their careers and boy they turned out to be pretty good players. So Nail Yakupov is not being shopped, he’s not going anywhere, and I wanted him to hear that from me, look me in my eyes and let him know that, ‘hey, we’re attached at the hip.’ We’re going to make him a better player, and it’s okay to struggle. I let him know about Thornton and Stamkos; it’s part of the process.
“He’s 20 years old and we’re not going to just suddenly give up on a guy because he’s going through a rough stretch. And the people writing their columns and their blogs, they can create their excitement that way, but all of what’s out there is 100 percent untrue.”
So, to reiterate: The columns and blogs have been written about the Oilers trading Yakupov since at least Oct. 16, right around the time that Eakins made him a surprise healthy scratch due to his putrid start offensively. The Oilers brainstrust has spent more time on the East Coast than a Maine lobsterman lately, hanging with Mark Messier and watching the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers.
All of this was a visible stoking of the embers for a dramatic shakeup from the Oilers, with Yakupov as the most logical piece to move.
All of this sizzled for three weeks until Eakins threw water on it yesterday.
The Oilers know what they’re doing here. Eakins knew it when he made Yakupov a healthy scratch, and he knew it when he finally came out and squashed the trade rumors. The tough love was too tough: Yakupov is a minus-7 with five shots and zero points in his last three games, playing a paltry 12:47 against the Florida Panthers on Nov. 5 with Eakins basically calling him a defensive liability in a close game.
So they decided to ease up and give him a vote of confidence.
(And since Paul Holmgren isn’t the GM of the Oilers, we’ll assume this is legit...)
This is a classic scare tactic for a young player whose early success has led to a sophomore stupor. There’s talk around the Oilers about his refusal to modulate his game to what Eakins and the brass want out of him, with that stubbornness leading to the scratch and, one assumes, the three weeks in limbo. This might just be the typical anonymous slandering of a young player, exacerbated when that young player is also Russian. But there’s definitely friction.
They’re trying to figure him out, as a player and as a person. Sometimes that means shuffling him around the lineup to find a fit. Sometimes that means having his friends texting him about his seemingly inevitable trade to Buffalo, which the Oilers refused to deny until 21 days had passed.
It’s all about breaking down Yakupov like he can break down opposing defenders, when he’s on his game. And he hasn’t been since last season.