When the Edmonton Oilers made Nail Yakupov the first overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, they expected him to become an impact forward almost right away. Not only did that not happen, but he was barely able to last six seasons in the NHL.
On Tuesday morning, it was announced that Yakupov had signed a one-year deal with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL.
The 24-year-old’s NHL career got off to a promising start, as he was able to put up a respectable 17 goals and 31 points in 48 games during the lockout-shortened season in 2012-13. Only Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner and Jordan Eberle had more points for the Oilers that season. But things went downhill after that.
In his sophomore year, he had 11 goals, 24 points and a minus-33 rating in 63 games. Throughout that season, there was plenty of chatter about Yakupov already not being in Edmonton’s plans anymore. He was made a healthy scratch early in the year and things just fell apart after that.
He returned to the Oilers the following year, but he accumulated just 14 goals and 33 points in 81 games. Clearly, that’s not enough for a player who was selected first just two years before that.
In 2015-16, his final year with Edmonton, Yakupov had eight goals and 23 points in 60 contests.
In October of 2017, the Oilers were able to get prospect Zach Pochiro, who’s spent most of his pro career in the ECHL, and a conditional third-rounder from St. Louis in exchange from the Russian winger.
It didn’t take the Blues long to figure out that this gamble wasn’t going to work out. During his only year in St. Louis, Yakupov netted three goals and nine points in 40 games. Again, effort appeared to be an issue at times.
Finally, last season, he ended up signing with the Colorado Avalanche after the Blues decided not to tend him a qualifying offer. Yakupov was regularly scratched toward the end of the season. He ended up with nine goals and seven assists in 58 games. Those numbers aren’t pretty.
All in all, he heads to the KHL with 62 goals and 74 assists in 350 career NHL games.
If he can put together a solid campaign in the KHL, there might be some interest in North America because he’s still relatively young. An NHL return doesn’t seem realistic right now, but stranger things have happened.
Nail Yakupov heading to Russia. If his NHL career is over, then he would have the fewest GP of any forward picked 1st OA who played in the league (Not counting 2013-2017).
At age 35, Ilya Kovalchuk would normally be a very risky bet in free agency. There’s always the chance that things swerve from here, but at the moment, he instead seems like he could be one of the true gems to hit the market.
A fascinating report by TSN’s Darren Dreger really transforms the discussion, and should be fodder for plenty of NHL fans to daydream: one of the deadliest snipers of this generation may accept a deal like the one Toronto gave to Patrick Marleau last summer (three years, $6.25 million cap hit).
That would be one heck of a deal for a truly gifted shooter who dominated the KHL since the 2013-14 season after generating exactly a point-per-game (816 points in as many contests) during his outstanding NHL career.
Kovalchuk only taking up a modest chunk of cap space would really alleviate worries about how the aging curve might affect his game.
While it’s highly likely that he’s a step or two slower, he’s always been a crucial guy for his NHL teams, from his do-everything days with the Atlanta Thrashers to his impressive, too-short run with the New Jersey Devils. During his final NHL season in 2013-14, Kovalchuk averaged the workload of a top pairing defenseman, logging 24:44 TOI per contest. It often felt like he never left the ice when his team was on the power play, in particular.
By reportedly valuing winning over getting maximum dollars, Kovalchuk doesn’t just make his potential contract less risky. If he joins a team with other talented players, he won’t have to carry the same workload. If healthy but not what he once was from a transition/all-around standpoint, Kovalchuk could at least be a premium version of a “trigger” on a power play (see: Sam Gagner‘s greatest moments with the Columbus Blue Jackets).
Kovalchuk told Dreger that he expects to compete at a high level.
“If there was any doubt in my mind, I would never come here. I wouldn’t be running around just to collect the money,” Kovalchuk said. “I want to be productive and I want to play for the team that trusts in me and I will give them everything I can to make them proud and successful. I have three or four years left in my tank where I can compete at the highest level…that’s why I’m here and that’s why I want to sign in the NHL.”
We’ve seen examples of top-end players convert KHL dominance to significant NHL contributions, albeit with younger stars such as Artemi Panarin and Alexander Radulov, so it wouldn’t be shocking if Kovalchuk seamlessly returns to the NHL. For all we know, the shorter seasons in the KHL might revitalize him.
(And Jaromir Jagr showed that an older, big-name player can come back to the NHL and enjoy immense success.)
Beyond the “How good will he be?” questions, most fans want to know where he’ll go. Ultimately, we won’t know for sure until July 1 at the earliest (the first date where he can officially sign a new deal).
Dreger reports that Kovalchuk’s negotiations will be handled by CAA Hockey/J.P. Barry, who happen to represent John Tavares, aka the biggest no-brainer of free agency … assuming he even really hits the market.
That connection is even more intriguing when you consider the very positive relationship Kovalchuk has with newly minted New York Islanders overlord Lou Lamoriello.
Islanders fans finally have some positive things to picture this summer, as Kovalchuk and Tavares could serve as enticements to draw each other to Brooklyn, while Lamoriello may very well improve the odds of one or more of those two things working out. Kovalchuk could potentially serve as the most entertaining linemate we’ve ever seen for Tavares, with all apologies to Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, and Anders Lee.
There are plenty of other fun scenarios, and Dreger reports that Kovalchuk’s reps have already been in discussions with at least eight NHL teams.
(That detail, honestly, is maddening. It would be disappointing if there were as many as eight teams who weren’t interested. Maybe some GMs are just taking early vacations?)
Anyway, there are a lot of fun scenarios. Imagine Kovalchuk going back to the Devils to help ease the burden of Taylor Hall, especially now that New Jersey’s style is about 10x more fun. The Islanders make a lot of sense considering recent developments, while the Rangers and Panthers also rank among the teams that have been connected to Kovalchuk in various rumors. Maple Leafs fans seem to be taking that Marleau comparison (and the team’s heaps of cap room) to the next level.
1st line LW Zach Hyman do not read this . . . . . . . . . . . . 1st line LW Ilya Kovalchuk hello https://t.co/1YP8n5oBSl
It’s all a lot of fun, particularly when you consider the fact that the NHL lags behind other professional sports when it comes to free agent frenzies.
Let’s just hope that Kovalchuk a) comes back to North America to dazzle us with his skills and b) chooses a contender so we can watch him deploy that world-class shot during the playoffs. He’s already been gone from the best hockey league in the world for far, far too long.
At least the Sabres have no choice but to turtle ahead of two pending free agent goalies in Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson. I wouldn’t expect many W’s, but maybe they’ll have high-save nights for those spot starting goalies? (Yes, I agree with your “Meh.”)
While his injury might make the point moot, Mike Green staying with the Red Wings might not be such a bad thing for his fantasy value. On a contender, Green would probably see fewer minutes, and be more of a specialist. In Detroit, he seems more likely to get those specialist PP minutes while also receiving something closer to a featured role overall.
Florida Panthers:Frank Vatrano could be interesting in an elevated role, once healthy … but not exactly a busy trade deadline for the Cats. Then again, with all the turbulence lately, it’s almost certainly wisest to aim for some stability.
Although Max Pacioretty would have been a lot of fun, if that ever was going to happen without Vincent Trocheck going the other way …
Montreal Canadiens: Patches might have benefited from a breath of fresh air. Even so, Habs fans get to let out a sigh of relief that Marc Bergevin didn’t bungle another trade.
Michael Grabner‘s currently on a third line with Travis Zajac and Stefan Noesen. There’s no doubt that Ray Shero’s latest slew of trades were made to improve depth, but I’d imagine the Devils would probably like to see those two forwards eventually solidify the top nine, with one of them ideally on the first or second line.
New York Islanders: *Cricket takes out a billboard that says “chirp”*
New York Rangers:Ryan Spooner hearts NY. So far in two games, the underrated former-Bruin has five assists, including three from last night. Vladislav Namestnikov looked great in his Rangers debut, too, scoring a goal and an assist.
Both forwards are in contract years and should get nice opportunities on a team in transition, so they are both nice deeper league options.
Ottawa Senators: Life might be weird for Erik Karlsson after not getting moved, but he’ll probably pile up points just the same. Exhibit A:
Sure, there were scenarios in which Karlsson would generate better numbers on a contender. He’d be less likely to deal with teammates going through the motions and might simply have better players to set up.
Still, there’s always an adjustment in going to a new team, especially for a star. So it’s not all great or all bad for Karlsson owners.
Philadelphia Flyers: Tough to gripe too much with staying the course when this team is positioned so strongly, even after ignoring calls for change after a 10-game losing streak. News flash: Ron Hextall is pretty good at this GM’ing thing.
Pittsburgh Penguins: It wouldn’t be shocking to see the Penguins experiment with different alignments regarding Derick Brassard, especially when you consider how comfortable they are moving wingers around Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.
You wonder if Mike Sullivan might also experiment with Brassard on one of the top two lines, even if it’s just to take a look. That would be the ideal scenario for fantasy, as playing on the third line could be a slight issue for Brassard, although those worries are mitigated by Phil Kessel currently joining him (and, hey, Conor Sheary isn’t chopped liver either).
Tampa Bay Lightning: We may need to wait a bit for returns on the big trade. Both Ryan McDonagh and Nikita Kucherov are injured. The Bolts lost to the lowly Sabres last night, and maybe worse, they were noticeably out-shot.
The dream scenario for J.T. Miller owners is that he’d eventually just slide into Namestnikov’s usual role as “Good Player Who Looks Great next to Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.” Right now it’s just sort of a mess, although Tyler Johnson isn’t the worst consolation prize.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Much like the Bolts with Kucherov, things are a little funky in Toronto with Auston Matthews out.
Tomas Plekanec‘s a decent pick up, yet he’s not really expected to light scoreboards on fire. That said, depending upon linemates, he could get a boost. We’ll see, but I wouldn’t scramble to add him in typical leagues, either.
I mean, unless you need to win the coveted turtlenecks category.
Washington Capitals: Rumors have it that the Capitals at least dipped their toes in the water re: Erik Karlsson and Ryan McDonagh. Instead, they’re not making a splash after doing so during many recent deadlines.
That’s probably most heartening to John Carlson, who won’t even need to fend off an aging Mike Green as he continues to pile up numbers in a contract year. He already has 50 points this season.
1. What team(s) need to make to make a trade or two before the deadline and why?
SEAN LEAHY: The New York Islanders sit just outside of the playoffs in the East and while we know they can score, they can’t keep the puck out of their net. They lead the NHL in goals allowed (223), so an upgrade in goal would be ideal, but that market isn’t very fruitful with three days until the deadline. If not in goal, then the blue line, surely. Ryan McDonagh is out there, but trading with the Rangers would require an overpayment. Would Peter Chiarelli pick up the phone if he sees Garth Snow calling again to maybe inquire about Oscar Klefbom or Adam Larsson?
Out West, Nashville Predators GM David Poile has never been one to shy away from strengthening his team. He added Kyle Turris in October and will get Mike Fisher back next week. Olympic stud Eeli Tolvanen may also join the team very soon. But after coming within two games of winning a Cup last year, the Predators are once again in position to challenge for a title.
“I think we’re closer to doing nothing than to do something,” Poile said recently. But he’s a general manager, and we shouldn’t believe anything they say around trade deadline. If an opportunity is there, he’s going to take it. Is Rick Nash worth adding if it means giving up someone like a Dante Fabbro after sending Samuel Girard and Vladislav Kamenev away in the Turris deal?
JAMES O’BRIEN: Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Islanders. These three teams see a remarkable forking path ahead. Each could easily miss the playoffs entirely, which would be an enormous failure for all involved (in the case of the Isles, for all we know, it may factor into John Tavares‘ future). Fascinatingly, all three teams could also be easily be seen as dangerous with the right tweaks. While they all have varied needs to fill, the general theme is getting that “extra oomph.”
(Note: Apologies for the highly technical jargon.)
With a little more balance, these teams could go from first-round fodder to terrifying dark horse. Sometimes it’s wise just to stand pat; other times GMs need to make that extra effort, even if it merely sends a message to current roster players that they’re going for it.
Missing the playoffs would be bad no matter what, but it would be far better if they went out swinging rather than flinching at strikes.
ADAM GRETZ: If I am Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford I push all of my chips to the center of the table and go all in on this trade deadline. They have a chance to make history and you do not get that opportunity very often. You only get so many years of players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang and you owe it to yourself to put them in the best possible position to win. Once those players get older or retire the team is going to stink and need to rebuild anyway, and there is no prospect or draft pick in the organization right now that is going to change. This is all especially true when you have a chance to go back-to-back-to-back. No prospect or draft pick should be off limits. Get another center. Improve the defense. Get creative with the salary cap. Whatever you have to do.
JOEY ALFIERI: Even though the Penguins have turned their season around, I still feel like they need to add another forward or two before Monday. It doesn’t have to be a major acquisition, but just another capable two-way player that can play on the third line and on the penalty kill.
The Columbus Blue Jackets and St. Louis Blues have both seen their play drop over the last few weeks, so if they want to make a push for a playoff spot, I feel like they need to give their players a jolt by adding a body. Missing the playoffs shouldn’t be an option for either team, especially after the success they had last season.
SCOTT BILLECK: New York Islanders. They need to stop the bleeding on the back end. They’ve allowed a league-high 223 goals against, which is 12 more than the Senators. Ottawa is nowhere near the playoff picture, but the Islanders right in the mix in the wildcard race thanks to their penchant for scoring goals. A good defenseman would help. Something has to change with that .901 in the team save percentage department. Get in quick before all the good players are gone.
Columbus Blue Jackets. They need some scoring. Desperately, it would seem given their recent slide. Evander Kane, anyone? The return of Rick Nash? Mike Hoffman is available. The sooner the better in this case.
2. What players who are considered trade bait are being overrated?
LEAHY: Tomas Plekanec’s production has dropped off a cliff since 2015-16 and he has 15 goals and 50 points in his last 137 games. Consider he was good for double digit goals and around 50 points a season for a long time. Teams are always looking to bolster their depth, especially down the middle, and while he can win you a face-off, (52.5 percent) there are definitely better options at center who are out there.
O’BRIEN: Mike Green – It pains me to say this, as in the past, Green’s absorbed excessive criticism for his flaws on the defensive end. Those exaggerations are now sliding closer to being the cold, hard reality for a blue liner who might need a highly specialized, sheltered role to be worth a look.
Jack Johnson – He’s really bad. Maybe there’s a scenario where a team could find the right style fit for him, but considering JJ’s cap hit, it’s tough to imagine him being worth giving up even a so-so asset.
Thomas Vanek – Yes, you can work limited players with specific skills into an advantageous situation. There’s a scenario where Vanek could be an older version of 2016-17 Sam Gagner, serving as the “trigger” on a PP that sets the table for him. Still, he can’t really do much on his own any longer, and you might as well go for a more spry “all-offense” option.
GRETZ: I think Derick Brassard is probably approaching that overrated territory. Don’t get me wrong, he is a good player. But he seems to be slowing down a bit in recent years, he carries a pretty big salary cap, and since the Senators do not have to trade him the price is probably going to be extremely high. Is it worth it? I am not sure. The other guy? Evander Kane. Again, pretty good player. But that seems to be the extent of it. Every year we hear about his talent and how he could have a breakout year and how he can be a dynamic player, and every year he is the same good but not great player. He has topped 50 points once in his career. He is a free agent after this season. He just seems a little overrated. I would also add Patrick Maroon to that list. He had a big shooting percentage driven performance a year ago and he has that “heavy hockey” pedigree hockey people love for the playoffs, but I would not give up a huge price for him.
ALFIERI: I don’t get the fuss over Patrick Maroon. He’s big, he’s scored some goals over the last couple of years, but I just don’t think he should be a priority for any team looking for a winger that can score. Obviously there are much better options on the market as of right now. Of course, it all depends on the price, but I don’t think the Oilers would be interested in giving him away, even if he is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
Tomas Plekanec is still a useful player, but his offensive game is practically non-existent. I’d take him on my team if he’s slotted correctly on the depth chart. At this point, the veteran should be seen as a fourth-line center on a very good hockey team. There will be a market for him if the Canadiens are willing to deal him.
BILLECK: Thomas Vanek – He won’t help you defensively and is questionable to show up in the playoffs.
Patrick Maroon – He did a lot of good things with Connor McDavid. But anyone can do that. Maybe he needs a change of scenery, but he’s a little too slow for today’s game.
Mike Green – This isn’t your late 2000s Mike Green. Instead, you get a defenseman who doesn’t do play much defense and doesn’t put up points like he used to.
3. What not-so-outlandish trade do you think should happen but ultimately won’t?
SEAN LEAHY: It’ll never, ever happen (OK, maybe it’s outlandish) but makes a lot of sense for all involved. Henrik Lundqvist to the New York Islanders. King Henrik gets to stay in New York, the Rangers can get some of those extra picks Garth Snow picked up from the Calgary Flames last year and the Islanders solve their goaltending issue. Lundqvist still has three more years left on his contract so future visits to MSG would be preeeeetty interesting.
JAMES O’BRIEN: Freeing Max Pacioretty. For the sake of entertainment, I hope I’m wrong.
More and more, the Montreal Canadiens feel like they’re going to handle things like the Vancouver Canucks did with Erik Gudbranson: clinging onto hope for the present when they should be setting the stage for the future. At 29 and with a deal that expires after 2018-19, “Patches” simply makes more sense on a contender, which the Habs aren’t this season and may not be next year. How refreshing would it be to see a far-too-frequent scapegoat get a new lease on life as more of a supporting cast member?
It smells a lot like Phil Kessel making a huge impact on the Penguins. It’s all so fun that, of course, it probably won’t happen.
ADAM GRETZ: Mike Green going back to Washington. Just because it seems like it would have been a lot of fun. But with the Capitals adding two defensemen to round out their third pairing over the past week it just does not seem like something that is in the cards.
JOEY ALFIERI: It’s pretty clear that Max Pacioretty needs a change of scenery. He hasn’t been noticeable on the ice over the last little while, which makes you wonder if the trade rumors are getting to him. 30-goal scorers that can kill penalties don’t grow on trees, so the Canadiens will have to get a great offer to part ways with him. He’s not a rental (he has one year left on his contract), so GM Marc Bergevin doesn’t have to deal him at the deadline to get something for him.
SCOTT BILLECK:Mats Zuccarello to the Winnipeg Jets. Jets fans are salivating at the thought of having another Mathieu Perreault on their roster. Perreault has been so good for the Jets that adding a similar player would have had a bolstering effect throughout their forward contingent. The problem here is price tag. The trend this year is that every player available seems to have a price tag with more markup than a Mercedes. Cheveldayoff isn’t into trading picks and assets. He’s barely into trading at all. It should happen. It’s a trade that has the potential to put the Jets over the top. But the asking price may be too much for Chevy to budge.
4. Erik Karlsson trade: Does it happen before the deadline or in the summer, and who should be at the front of the line for him?
SEAN LEAHY: I can’t see a GM overwhelming Pierre Dorion with an offer by Monday’s deadline. Unless Karlsson threatens to sit out, the Ottawa Senators GM should wait it out, much like Joe Sakic did with Matt Duchene. The team doesn’t need to trade Karlsson now. Wait for the draft and the summer when the other 30 teams know their salary cap situation and have an idea of what sort of enticing package they could offer.
Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman should be calling Dorion now planting seeds for a summer deal. Mikhail Sergachev is a nice start, and if you’re a buyer, maybe work out a sign-and-trade thereby ensuring an extra year of Karlsson, who’s signed through 2019.
JAMES O’BRIEN: Karlsson seems most likely to move during the summer.
To start, draft positions will crystallize. The Senators would need one heck of a haul, so why risk moving Karlsson for a package that includes a mystery first-rounder?
Honestly, any team that aggressively wants to contend should ante up. Karlsson would be a lot of fun to watch with Auston Matthews in Toronto, burning everyone alongside Connor McDavid, or even landing on a team like the Dallas Stars. (Imagine trying to protect a one-goal lead with Karlsson, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, John Klingberg, and Alex Radulov on the ice.)
If forced to pick one team, I’d go with the Oilers, because they need to make a desperate swing to improve. Why not just go the super-obvious route? Karlsson can cure a lot of ills, even if the organization continues to blunder on the margins.
ADAM GRETZ: Think it happens at the trade deadline. It would be an almost unheard of trade given Karlsson’s talent level — players like him almost never get traded — but what choice do the Senators have? They do not seem to be in a position to re-sign him, and you can not lose him for nothing. This is when his value is highest because whatever team gets him gets two playoff runs with him. Who should be at the top of the list? I don’t know, Tampa Bay or Philadelphia.
JOEY ALFIERI: Like Pacioretty, Karlsson has another year left on his deal so the Sens don’t have to make this move right now. I think it’ll get done at the draft. It’s just too difficult for a team to pull that kind of trade off in February. The Tampa Bay Lightning should be all-in when it comes to Karlsson. Imagine having Hedman and Karlsson on the same blue line. Come playoff time, the Bolts could have those two guys play 30 minutes each. No matter when this trade happens, Steve Yzerman should try to pull it off.
SCOTT BILLECK: Before the deadline (although it shouldn’t be happening at all). If the Bruins could make it work, they could continue taking great defenseman from the Senators (see Zdeno Chara) and going to Stanley Cups with them. If the Islanders can’t keep Tavares, maybe there is something there given all the cap space that would free up. Edmonton? That’s a juicy one as well. This is a tough one because whatever team wants Karlsson has to give up so many assets to get him.
Patrick Marleau, Toronto Maple Leafs: Marleau scored two more goals, his 13th and 14th goals of the season. It was the 67th multi-goal game of his long career. It’s been a great season for the former Sharks forward. The man is timeless, everyone. Timeless.
James Reimer, Florida Panthers: Reimer stopped 29 of 31 shots for his fourth consecutive win. Reimer has put up a .935 save percentage or better in each of those four games.
Sam Gagner and Thomas Vanek, Vancouver Canucks: Each player had a pair of goals to their respective names in a 5-2 win for the Canucks over the Chicago Blackhawks.
Highlights of the Night:
Marleau’s second goal of the game came off a pretty slick deke after getting the puck alone in front: