Money and Paperwork
One suspects the Nail Yakupov controversy could end rather simply, with a couple of signatures and the right paperwork in place. Bureaucracy must be served, after all.
On the other hand, it could get very messy and turn into a tug of war between Hockey Canada and the Russian Ice Hockey Federation, and there's a long history of disputes, both resolved and unresolved between those bodies.
One thing this isn't is about what's best for the development of the NHL's No. 1 pick, and don't believe anybody who tells you that it is.
It's about money, and the ability of a young hockey player to choose making $4 million or more playing pro hockey over the indentured servitude status of major junior hockey.
Yakupov may well be entitled to make a living, and we've been through this with the WHA and the Baby Bulls and even the NBA with the old "hardship" cases, and so on. Stop a man from working and it's restraint of trade, right?
The Edmonton Oilers are happy, it seems, for Yakupov to be in the KHL. But there's no evidence at all it's necessarily better for his development, as opposed to skating another season with the Sarnia Sting. He was a top-notch player last year in the CHL, but hardly the best player in Canada, nothing even close to what, say, Taylor Hall was with Windsor in his draft year. Particularly from a team standpoint, Yakupov left people wanting more, and another season of being a dominant player in Sarnia or some other OHL outpost wouldn't necessarily be bad for him.
After all, the CHL may turn out to be fine for Alex Galchenyuk, Ryan Murray, Griffin Reinhart, Morgan Rielly and the other top picks of the 2012, although if the NHL ever digs itself out of this lockout some could end up there. Yakupov wasn't necessarily the top player by a great distance in that draft, so playing in the CHL might actually be what he needs.
But Yakupov wants to be near home and with a team that offers him plenty of financial reasons to be there, and it's hard to blame him.
Right now, he's suspended after illegally playing two games, and if the standard NHL entry level contract says he can only play in either the CHL or NHL, this could be a tricky situation, even if Hockey Canada relents. After all, someone could argue the NHL's collective bargaining agreement has expired, and so shouldn't necessarily dictate what a player like Yakupov can and can't do. The NHL, however, would fight that, as would the CHL, as what would stop any number of junior eligible players from picking up stakes and going to play for money somewhere.
This much seems true; the Oilers assigned Yakupov to Sarnia, not the KHL, and Sarnia isn't in a lockout.
“Hockey Canada challenged the IIHF for his release to the KHL,” Sting GM Jacques Beaulieu told the Sarnia Observer. "It’s no different than Dougie Hamilton playing in our league. He can’t go play in the American League. It’s the same thing.
“I mean we had a discussion with Nail early in exhibition to see if he would consider coming back. I think he’s making a lot of money there in Russia, so it was pretty hard for him to turn that down and, you know, we don’t blame these kids either.
“If they’re going to go and make that kind of money, it’s pretty hard to stop them. But there is rules according to Hockey Canada and IIHF, Nail is under contract till 2013 with the Sting, so that’s the reason why I think they upheld it.”
Sarnia already has two imports, and while Yakupov would be a useful addition, he'd also likely be headed to the NHL as soon as the lockout ends.
“You know, I had my doubts about him playing in the KHL because of the rules we have," Beaulieu told the Observer.