You'll remember that Edmonton Sun's Hockey Hall of Famer, Terry Jones, a little while back — during the whole "Andrei Kostitsyn and Alex Radulov getting scolded for staying out past curfew like 16-year-olds" thing — took a bit of a jab at Russian hockey players.
In particular, he said that if this was how Russians behave and play (ostensibly in the entire postseason to that point), then the Edmonton Oilers, selecting first in next week's NHL entry draft, "better give a real, real, real, real good hard think about Nail Yakupov, huh?"
It was xenophobic and almost universally hailed as ridiculous pap; but as it turned out, it wasn't a lone voice in the wilderness, but rather the first of many.
Since that time in early May, the Edmonton media has very much gone on a campaign against Yakupov in various ways, most often by way of endlessly praising defenseman Ryan Murray, who could go anywhere from second to fourth in the draft depending upon who you ask and when you ask it.
Not that Murray is in any way a bad player, but it all seems an awful lot like the media in a Canadian city very Canadianly praising a players' Canadianness as the chief reason he should be considered a No. 1 overall pick -- and very much lining up against a Russian.
Which would be all fine and well if a Russian weren't the consensus best player available.
Now, Edmonton is clearly in desperate need of defense, and GM Steve Tambellini's club is up to its elbows in top-quality forwards. The latter is a nice problem to have, of course, and there is something to be said for drafting for need rather than taking the best player available.
But there's also a reason most teams opt for the latter tactic when picking, especially when doing it first overall. The thinking is that you take the guy who projects the most as a can't-miss NHLer for a long time, and if you don't have a lot of questions about the capabilities of someone, you don't faff about in adding him to your team.
All of which is a long way of saying there's no such thing as having too many great players, regardless of what position they play.
So doesn't it seem very odd that the Edmonton media have spent a considerable amount of time since softening the beaches and trying very hard to come up with questions the Oilers could theoretically have about Yakupov, largely through what-if scenarios and extolling the virtues of "being sure" on a talent like his?
Due diligence, yes, but this all starts to stink at some point.
David Staples may have gotten this parade of negativity toward the consensus No. 1 started when he misquoted Kevin Lowe as saying Murray was "the" top player in the draft, rather than "a" top player, and fixed it sometime later. Not long after that came a dispatch by Jim Matheson, who noted that Oilers fans should be ready for the team to take a pass on Yakupov and instead pick Murray first overall, because he was named to the Canadian entry to the World Championships (where he went on to play a bunch of minutes against some truly bad teams, and almost none against the good ones).
And let's not forget, it was Kevin Lowe who put that Canadian roster together, wink nudge.
It all got lost in the shuffle though, as Edmonton continued to seek its new coach, Tambellini got re-signed for who-knows-what-reason, and the team hired Craig MacTavish to tut-tut any of the sillier moves Tambellini or Lowe might make in constructing the team going forward.here), it really kicked into a high gear this week, which I will note is not so coincidentally the final one before the draft itself. Bob McKenzie is one of the most respected voices in hockey for a very good reason, and his words therefore carry heft that a handful of regime-friendly Edmonton writers' do not.
So when McKenzie says, "[I]f you think Ryan Murray or Griffin Reinhart, both defensemen, are in the same class as Yakupov, then you step up and take one of them and not worry about others saying Yakupov is the clear or consensus choice at No. 1," that's batten-down-the-hatches time for the extremely pliable Edmonton media. Yakupov quickly went from a guy whose playoff performance disappointed some scouts to, as David Staples says, "no longer regarded as 'can't miss'" in an awful big hurry.
This dispatch was also seized upon by normally right-headed Edmonton blogger Lowetide, who took the time to engage in a bit of revisionist history in saying that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins wasn't the consensus No. 1 pick — the better to lavish credit upon the Oilers' scouting staff for taking him ahead of Gabriel Landeskog; who by the way, was a more convincing NHLer this season than the Nuge — and suggesting that Taylor Hall was clearly the best player available in 2009.
That, obviously, is highly debatable, given all the Taylor-or-Tyler talk, and how Tyler Seguin has worked out for Boston since.
Staples did note, however, that if the Oilers valued either Reinhart or Murray ahead of Yakupov, then Edmonton should trade down to get them, rather than take them first overall, which is the first sensible thing someone in the Edmonton media has said on the subject in months.
But again, it's about one simple message: "Don't get your heart set on Yakupov at No. 1, they're not taking him there."
The Oilers have, to be fair, picked first overall in the last two drafts and that's no fun for anyone, so trading down and taking the extra picks or prospects that come with that decision might at least make things more interesting.
I'm not sure if this is more of the insular Canada Is The Best Hockey Nation stuff we've been seeing with greater frequency in the last few years or what, an anti-Russian thing, or something else entirely, but it's baffling to see an entire city's biggest-name hockey writers and most prominent bloggers line up with uniformity against someone in ways they didn't against Landeskog or Seguin in the past.
(In the interest of fairness, by the way, here's Jonathan Willis noting that the Oilers should take Yakupov first overall unless someone blows their doors off with an offer to trade down.)
And every bit of this is speculative for all involved, of course. The Oilers could very well still take Yakupov first overall, and they likely wouldn't be wrong to do it. After all, they'd have picked the best player available.
But what to do with all that preemptive spin? Save it for a rainy day, when you need to run the kid out of town with a series of I-told-you-sos.
Pearls of Biz-dom
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BizNasty on how cool dogs are (hint: Very Cool!): "I sometimes feel bad for dogs because they eat the same meal everyday, but then you remember they can [poop] wherever they want in public."
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