The St. Louis Blues have decided to not extend a qualifying offer to right wing Nail Yakupov. Qualifying a player means a team intends to maintain their rights for that player and begin negotiations on a new contract. Yakupov did not receive one from the Blues, meaning he is eligible to become a free agent on July 1st.
This will open the door for any team to begin contract talks with the young Russian. The absence of a qualifier raises questions surrounding Yakupov and his future in the NHL. Clearly the Blues felt his talents were expendable and it will be interesting to see what other teams think. There have been many rumors surrounding Yakupov and starting now those will only heat up as free agency approaches.
Yakupov is a very young player who has only seen five seasons in the NHL. He was the first overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft by Edmonton and has underperformed since. He is yet to amass twenty goals or over thirty-five points in a single season. Albeit he has had a less than desirable start to his career, Yakupov is still only 23-years old and could still see a turnaround in the right system.
Although he is regarded as one of the biggest busts of recent years, Yakupov possesses all the skill and tools to be a productive player. Many wonder if he lacks work ethic and heart that cannot be drug out of him, while others believe another change of scenery could provide positive change.
Yakupov is a heavily talented skater with supreme agility and speed. He also holds a lethal left-handed wrist shot that has the potential to turn him into a productive sniper. He seems to have the skill, yet is extremely inconsistent with his play and often shows a visible lack of effort. This would account for his low production in the NHL of 53 goals and 120 points in 292 games. It is no wonder that his tenure in St. Louis was so short lived, as he appeared in less than half of the games and only collected nine points this past season.
Ever since Yakupov has shown a rapid decline and lack of production, there have been rumors about him returning to Russia to play. Many believe that Yakupov could go to the KHL, the Russian professional league, to continue his hockey career. This is in large part due to the fact that in May of this year, SKA St. Petersburg received his rights. This in no way meant he had plans of returning to Russia. In fact, he made a statement that he desired to sign his next contract in the NHL and did not wish to return to his home country to play.
Now that he did not receive a qualifying offer, there is much speculation as to his next destination. Many believe now is the time he leaves for the KHL. But Yakupov will likely stay firm with his statement of finding his next contract in the NHL. And although the Blues gave up on him, Yakupov should not have a problem with finding suitors.
It has already been reported that Yakupov is interested in signing with the Vancouver Canucks. His agent, Igor Larionov, informed a Vancouver sports radio host that “Nail would love to play for Vancouver”. Of course, at this point, Yakupov would love to play for anyone who gave him another chance to turn his career around.
No matter the speculation, it is highly unlikely that Yakupov ends up in the KHL. A team, whether it is the Vancover Canucks or not, will take a chance on a guy who once had superstar expectations. He will be a very low-risk and high-reward signing who could either really help a team or provide little detriment.
He will be a relatively cheap and short term signing because of his poor play. A one-year contract of $650,000 is likely the ballpark number a team will send his way for his services. Because of this, teams should be interested and willing to invest in this project.
The Canucks would definitely be a team that could risk signing Yakupov as their offence was anemic last season. There was little production and excitement as they finished with a franchise low in goals per game. A rebuilding team like the Canucks could afford to gamble on Yakupov in hopes of a turnaround.
Another team that could prove a good fit would be the Los Angeles Kings. Although they are not a rebuilding or mightily struggling team like the Canucks, they are still in need of offensive help. And with little cap space, a cheap signing of Nail Yakupov could be an intriguing idea for new general manager Rob Blake. The Kings offence was atrocious last year with little bright spots. Jeff Carter had a monster year with over 30 goals and Tanner Pearson showed flashes of brilliance. Besides that, the Kings were their typical unoffensive selves.
They still played solid defense and even got quality goaltending without Jonathan Quick. The problem was scoring, and Yakuopov has the ability to do just that. The Kings would not expect him to be a 30 goal scorer. Instead, bringing him into their winning and professional culture could change his mindset and hockey outlook. Perhaps Yakupov would gain confidence and revert back to his rookie year where he showed the star he could be.
Other teams such as the Boston Bruins, Arizona Coyotes, or even the Vegas Golden Knights could benefit from a gamble on Yakupov. No matter who it is, there should not be a problem in finding a team willing to take a small risk on a guy who could have major upside. In the coming weeks more rumors will surface and it will be more clear who Yakupov could end up with.