Edmonton Oilers winger Nail Yakupov, held scoreless in his first four games of this season, wasn't pleased about being a healthy scratch in recent games against Toronto and Washington.
A report out of Russia, meanwhile, cited the coach of Yakupov's former KHL team, Neftekhimik, saying there's a chance the 20-year-old could return to Russia. Yakupov and his agent Igor Larionov swiftly denied it, with the winger claiming he loved playing in Edmonton.
Nail Yakupov: No KHL talks, I love Edmonton - NHL - Sporting News
Even if Yakupov wanted to return to Russia, he's under contract with the Oilers through 2014-15. The NHL and KHL have an agreement to honor each other's contracts, so unless Yakupov “retires” (with the Oilers blessing) from the NHL, he won't be playing in Russia this season or next.
It's too early to suggest there’s been a falling-out between Yakupov and the Oilers. If losses pile up, however, GM Craig MacTavish could be forced to make a significant move, which would heighten speculation over Yakupov's future.
The Oilers are still struggling defensively and between the pipes, giving up a league-leading 29 goals against.
MacTavish can draw from his depth at forward as trade bait to address these problems. Considering 24 other NHL clubs have less than $5 million in cap space, however, finding a suitable trade partner won’t be easy.
Prying a quality goaltender or defenseman from a rival club will take a significant return, especially at this early stage in the season. The worse things get for the Oilers, the more MacTavish is dealing from a position of weakness.
The Oilers have invested long-term in Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Rival GMs aren't interested in oft-injured Ales Hemsky's $5-million salary.
That leaves Yakupov as their most attractive bargaining chip. He's a very promising young player carrying an affordable contract who could attract the type of return the Oilers need.
MacTavish promised a bold move this summer to shake up his roster. If the Oilers don't snap out of their early-season doldrums soon, trading Yakupov could become that bold move.
BRIAN ELLIOTT COULD BE EDMONTON’S BIG TARGET
If the Oilers go shopping for a goalie, The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch believes St. Louis Blues backup Brian Elliott might be a fit.
Elliott is making $1.8 million this season, which Garrioch considers “too much cash” for the Blues ownership to invest in a backup goalie.
The two clubs have a recent trade history (last summer's David Perron deal) and the Blues might be interested in Yakupov. However, the Oilers won't part with him for Elliott, who's been a streaky performer throughout his NHL career.
The Blues certainly won't move starter Jaroslav Halak, who's off to a terrific start. They'd prefer to retain promising Jake Allen if Halak or Elliott depart via free agency next summer, provided one of them isn't traded first.
If the Blues are keen to shed salary and promote Allen, perhaps the Oilers could get Elliott without giving up a significant asset like Yakupov.