Have you ever seen a transaction so weird that you must have dreamed it, or at least woken up in some sort of parallel universe? That was my first thought when I saw the Colorado Avalanche had signed former number one draft pick Nail Yakupov. Having spent four seasons languishing in Edmonton, Yakupov’s trade to the St. Louis Blues in October 2016 seemed to be the 23 year old’s last chance saloon. His last shot at redemption and avoiding that dreaded ‘draft bust’ label that’s been stalking him.
After failing to find regular ice time in St. Louis, Yakupov’s season was eventually cut short by a knee injury sustained while playing against the Avalanche. He’d totaled a woeful 9 points in 40 games. Prior to this the guy was a regular healthy scratch. To describe the Avalanche as a rudderless ship of fools, piloted by a drunk captain through a sea of disappointment and sadness would be a tad bit unfair. But if the Avs’ front office does have a long term plan, it’s hard to see exactly what that consists of.
That’s why signing Yakupov to a one year, $875,000 contract is a good idea for the team. OK, not a good idea, but not the worst idea. Avs fans will be hoping that we’ve only seen the tip of Yakupov’s iceberg so far, and that there’s more to come. This, although unlikely, is possible. Some players need to find the right system to help them perform at their best. To the casual armchair-based hockey writer who’s not privy to the inner machinations of the Avalanche organisation, it smacks of a team who’ve given up on tried and tested strategy and have adopted the throw-it-all-at-the-wall-to-see-what-sticks methodology of team building.
Both Yakupov and the Avalanche are going full steam ahead to escape the whirlpool of obscurity that threatens them both. Even if Yakupov finds his stride with his new team, he’ll never reach the heights expected of a number one draft pick because he’s made his bed in Denver. To all intents and purposes the guy is a draft bust.
For the Avs this move makes sense, because frankly nothing else they’ve done has. Picking up a winger with NHL experience and a smidge of potential seems the right thing to do. Whether or not Yakupov can steady the ship remains to be seen, but if all falls through then $875,000 is a relative drop in the ocean.