The Chicago Blackhawks were reportedly close to acquiring forward Nail Yakupov — until they weren’t
On Thursday, rumors began circulating that the Chicago Blackhawks were closing in on acquiring former No. 1 overall pick Nail Yakupov from the Edmonton Oilers. It was interesting news, as Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman had previously said he was hoping the team’s youngsters would work to fill the lineup holes.
There were rumors Mark McNeill could go the other way, or maybe Viktor Svedberg, or maybe even Trevor van Riemsdyk. But regardless of who went the other way, it sounded as though the Blackhawks were really close to adding a former top pick who had been used and abused in Edmonton.
And then, as a lot of Chicagoans awaited the Cubs’ NLDS opener, news broke that the St. Louis Blues had acquired Yakupov instead.
Well, isn’t that a bummer.
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What did the Blues give up, and what does it mean?
St. Louis went against its typically motif and acquired a guy more known as a skilled playmaker than someone who tries to send opposing players into the 15th row. Granted, Yakupov has had his struggles at the NHL level, but no one is going to mistake him for David Backes.
The Blues essentially gave up a bag of pucks to add Yakupov, who the Oilers fell out of love with well before another former No. 1 pick, Taylor Hall, who was also traded this offseason. (Fun fact: The Oilers are the first-ever team to trade two former top picks in the same offseason.)
St. Louis parted with ECHLer Zach Pochiro and a conditional third-round pick, which becomes a second-rounder if Pochiro scores 15 or more goals this season (he’s scored nine in parts of three total ECHL seasons).
You may notice this is a far smaller return than what the Blackhawks were probably offering. It wouldn’t have been a 1-for-1 deal involving Yakupov and one of the Blackhawks listed above, so the Oilers likely would’ve gotten more than one warm body.
But before we get to why any deal with the Blackhawks fell through, let’s briefly talk about what the Yakupov move means for the Blues and the Central Division.
At the very least, it means Ken Hitchcock can avoid dressing a useless player like Ryan Reaves in exchange for a more talented athlete in Yakupov. According to dailyfaceoff.com, Yakupov projects to slot into St. Louis’ third line with Dmitrij Jaskin and Patrik Berglund. That’s a fine third line from an offensive perspective.
As far as what it means for the Central Division, it’s not as though this move is going to push St. Louis to the forefront of favorites. This is a low-risk deal for the Blues that doesn’t necessarily have to produce big results. After all, Yakupov has maxed out at 33 points through four NHL seasons.
So the Blues improved, as long as Yakupov fits into his change of scenery. But it’s nothing for anyone to panic over.
So why isn’t Yakupov with the Blackhawks?
It would seem to be one specific item that kept Edmonton from sending Yakupov to Chicago: money. Specifically, the retention of money.
This is an entirely fair guess. Yakupov is due to make $2.5 million in the last year of his contract, and the Blackhawks, as usual, are tight against the salary cap. The Oilers are looking to get out of the Pacific Division basement, not continue paying for players they didn’t want anymore.
So we’re back where we started before news of Yakupov-to-Chicago broke Thursday. That is, we’re looking to see which youngsters most effectively fill lineup holes as the regular season approaches.
Tonight will be a big step toward that. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has told the media he plans to ice a lot of youngsters in the preseason finale against St. Louis. Guys like Alexandre Fortin, Vincent Hinostroza, Nick Schmaltz, Ryan Hartman, Tyler Motte, Gustav Forsling and McNeill — assuming they all play — will be making to look one final big showing ahead of more roster cuts.
So losing out on Yakupov isn’t the end of the world for Chicago. While he has more NHL experience than any of the guys I just listed, it hasn’t been great NHL experience. A change of scenery may do him really well, but missing the Russian is nothing for the Blackhawks and their fans to lose sleep over.