Back in 2007-08 when Alexander Ovechkin scored 65 goals for the Caps there would have been absolutely no question about what the Oilers should do with the first overall pick.
Some are calling Nail Yakupov a "mini Ovechkin" for his ability to beat opposing players by going around them or through them and for that love of scoring goals that we've seen so often from the Great Eight. And, of course, for being a young Russian star. It was not so long ago that Ovechkin and Crosby were neck-and-neck for the title of 'best player in the NHL,' with the former scoring 269 goals in his first five years in the league. That's an average of nearly 54 goals per season. Every team in the NHL would have loved to have a player like Ovi, and the chance to get the next one first overall would be envied much more now if Ovechkin's scoring hadn't fallen off a cliff.
With Ovechkin on a short leash in the playoffs, and his team winning more when he plays less, the idea of trading a player who could turn out to be like him is not viewed as, well, completely insane. And it may not actually be that out of line either, because for all the goals Alexander the Great has scored as a Cap, that team has yet to reach the promised land.
The trouble could be that even if the Oilers wanted to trade the pick, other teams will see the pitfalls of building a team around a one-dimensional scoring winger. What's happening with Ovechkin won't do wonders for the value of Yakupov on the open market, whether that's fair to him or not.
For the Oilers' part, they have been fortunate (see: bad) enough to add players that can make up the core of a team, and at this point Yakupov is just an unexpected luxury. That could end up being the best possible situation, and it's one good reason for Edmonton to hang on to the pick unless some other team knocks their socks off with a deal.
- Put this in the bank: after these playoffs are over, everyone is going to be talking about how you need good goaltending to win a Stanley Cup. There will be plenty of knee-jerk trades going on in order to get goalies, and some will get pricey extensions with their current teams. The two goalies left in the West - Jonathan Quick and Mike Smith - are carrying 0.949 and 0.948 save percentages respectively. Lundqvist (0.937) and Holtby (0.932) are putting up impressive stats in the Eastern Conference as well. But all of this flies in the face of the mantra from the 2010 Playoffs, which was the year when you didn't need good goaltending to win. Stanley Cup Champion Antti Niemi had a 0.910 Sv%, while runners-up Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher had 0.916 and 0.909 save percentages respectively. Jaroslav Halak willed the Canadiens to the Eastern Conference Final and finished with a 0.923 Sv%, but his team still got beat by the Flyers of Leighton and Boucher. Evgeni Nabokov, who got the Sharks to the Conference Final, had a measly 0.907 Sv% in that playoff year. The playoffs are still a short tournament compared to a regular season, and the factors that cause teams to advance can change from year to year. In the end, if your team is sound enough you can still win without the best goalie in the league.
- Have to wonder about the Calgary Flames watching the LA Kings go to the Western Conference Final as an 8 seed, and also the Washington Capitals with a chance to go deep after finishing 7th. Just more evidence that if you can get to the dance anything can happen. The problem is that those two teams are a lot better than their records reflect, while the Flames are not. Will their management team realize that this off-season, or will these Cinderella runs reinforce that need to clamor for the final playoff spots once again?
- The last year the Oilers had a 40 goal scorer (Petr Klima in 1990-91), the Cold War was ending. The First Gulf War was going on. Rodney King was beaten by police officers in Los Angeles. The Pittsburgh Penguins won their first Stanley Cup. Ryan Smyth was close with 39 in 1996-97, but it sure feels like a long time now, doesn't it? Please, Oilers. It would be nice to see.