Edmonton - May 28, 2014 - There has been no big Oilers news to come out of Rexall since the retirement of Ryan Smyth. The arena has most recently been used to host Oil Kings WHL playoff games, and the Edmonton Rush lacrosse finale. It has been some time since the likes of Nail Yakupov and Dallas Eakins have graced the home team locker room. Yet as soon as an opportunity presents itself, the national media finds the narrative that they, alongside local media, relied on all year for internal drama as if the well was running dry.
In an early Monday Morning sit down with Brady and Walker on SN590 The Fan, Edmonton Oilers head coach, Dallas Eakins was asked about his misconstrued relationship with approaching 3rd year forward, Nail Yakupov.
Now I have seen many sports interviews and many train wreck press conferences, but I have admittedly never seen a head coach open up to the media about his disdain for a player on his bench. Monday morning was no different.
"I thought he had a challenging year. And, you know, there were a number of things that contributed to it. This is a kid, who I believe in his first year in a shortened season scored 17 goals. His shooting percentage, off the top of my head, I think was 21 percent. You look at the top shooters in the game, they don’t shoot like that. It’s hard to sustain. And with him coming out of the game like that, suddenly the expectation on a very inexperienced player is, ‘Well, he’ll just score 30 goals this year.’ Well, he’s not going to shoot at 21 percent for his whole career.
“I think him not getting the offence hurt his confidence. There’s a certain way we want to play there and it was right across the board, not only for Nail but for Taylor, and Jordan, and Andrew Ference, Ryan Smyth. We were trying to have our team all play the same way. And it’s important for the accountability in the room.
"Like you said, there’s an evolution to a player like Nail. He’s still learning the game. He’s extremely inexperienced. And my relationship with Nail is a great one. That’s why I kind of chuckle with the way it gets drawn out in the media. You take a kid out of the lineup and certainly, suddenly, there’s a big fight going on. Well, there’s no fight. Nail understood what was going on. I know there was some white noise from the agent. And I understand that. The agent’s going to protect their client. And so much more was made out of that than what was made out of that than was really going on. Nail and I have a very healthy relationship.
"I’m very hopeful and fairly confident that he’s going to have a great rebound year.”
As is the most common practice, there was no mention of any bad blood between Dallas Eakins and Nail Yakupov. I would love to grasp at the rainbows and butterflies that exist in that scenario, but for a proud and determined player like Yakupov, I would have to hear his side of the story. It's hard for me to believe that he wasn't a tad bitter with his lack of powerplay time, and constant demotions.
Now I'm not sure where the blame should be placed. I'm not sure it goes with one or two parties even. The Oilers have been woefully inconsistent with their development of talent over the last few years. With the 3 consecutive 1st overall picks of 2010,2011, and 2012, they have one player that even a few would consider to be "elite."
Coach Eakins is correct about one thing, though. Nail Yakupov has a lot to learn. Earlier in the interview, he mentions that as well as good players, the Oilers are trying to develop good men. Could Eakins' reasoning for sending Yakupov up to the pressbox or sitting him on a few shifts be due to that notion? Is Yakupov's inexperience relative to a sense of immaturity?
These are questions that only Eakins can answer, and he won't do it on a national morning radio show. If Yakupov resumes his spot with the team come time for the season opener, fans and media will have a birds-eye view of the true circumstance of the head coach's relationship with number 64. If by some chance, the young Russian will dawn another jersey the next time he sees his teammates, I believe it will be for a number of reasons, the primary being that MacTavish is answering these ever-poignant questions.
That being said, I do believe that Nail Yakupov will be on the team come October, and I also believe that he will be on a very short leash. Due to his age, the Oilers have missed the opportunity to send him down the Oklahoma City without going through waivers, so there is no keeping him if the struggle continues. There are too many teams in need of scoring depth in the NHL, and if the Oilers can move Ales Hemsky, and (presumably) Sam Gagner, there will be no question of Yakupov's value. Come the start of the 2015-2016 season, it will be put up or shut up for the former first overall selection of 2012.
Feel free to disagree with me on twitter @Jthompson2380