Kukla's Korner Hockey
by George Malik on 11/12/13 at 01:22 AM ET
Updated with more from Larionov at 2:57 AM: The Twitter world is going a little crazy over the following Tweets from ESPN's Craig Custance:
You can imagine that the Oilers' press corps is weighing in, with the Edmonton Journal's David Staples offering the following...
The Oilers unhappy with him? Of course they are unhappy with him, or at least well aware that he’s got a ton to learn about basic defensive coverage and fundamentals.
As skilled as he is on the attack, Yakupov earned his way onto the fourth line. He’s the worst minus player in the NHL, and he’s earned most of those minus marks the ugly way, by making mistakes on goals against. He’s got the highest rate of mistakes on goals against of anyone on the Oilers.
Right now, the kid has plenty of learning to do to make it as an NHL player. He’s going to have to sweat, struggle, change his way, fail, fight his way back from failure.
So, yes, the Oilers need to use Yakupov to best effect, but they also need a player willing to work to learn defensive hockey at the NHL level, and not demand trades when he’s struggling and down.
If Yakupov is willing to work like hell on his defensive game, I imagine the Oilers won’t be unhappy with him at all.
If he’s not, the Oilers should move him as soon as possible, and the same goes for any other player on the team. Almost all of the young stars need to pick it up in a major way on their defensive play, not just Yakupov.
And noting that Oilers broadcaster Bob Stauffer added this take...
And I felt that it might not be terrible if someone from Detroit weighed in, so here is what I had to say on Twitter:
. Larionov is an agent, not the player, and he is not making a trade demand on his player's behalf;
. Larionov played for Viktor Tikhonov in Russia and Pat Quinn and Scotty Bowman in the NHL, and he left the Canucks (for the 1992-93 season, to play in Switzerland) and the Red Wings (for the 2000-2001 season, to play for the Panthers) due to contract disputes.
Here in Detroit, Igor was never afraid to speak up or speak out, even if he took crap for it, because he'd spent the final years of his time in the Soviet Union trying to *legally* leave the Russian National Team instead of defecting.
Larionov is also fiercely protective of his clients. He chooses a small number of players and informs them that his goal is to make them better players, responsible young men, and that he believes hockey at its highest level is played in the NHL.
Clients who aren't willing to come to North America to play for CHL teams (usually OHL ones), train in the offseason here (usually in Metro Detroit) and who aren't willing to commit to spending their formative years playing in the AHL, ECHL, etc. in order to earn gainful NHL employment and sustain gainful NHL employment are not the kinds of clients Larionov wants to mentor.
He's being the "bad guy" and the "bully" here because he can do that independently of his client. When someone says that he's taking a trip to Edmonton to find some answers, as a partisan fan, I wouldn't be *that* worried about the player wanting to bail. It sounds like Larionov issued something of a threat en route to personally ensuring that the relationship between player and team are working by visiting the Oilers himself. That does not indicate any sort of unwillingness to "make it work"--it's just part of Igor's "game."
We're talking about part of the sometimes rocky process of the relationship between a young player's representative and the player's employer. The player's representative is not the player and does not speak for the player himself in most instances, and at this point, it sounds like you've got a very vocal agent making his discontent be known before shifting into problem-solving mode.
I'd defer to the folks following the Oilers, but Larionov has his clients train at the same gym in Madison Heights from late July onward, they tend to skate in Troy, sometimes with the Wings, prior to prospect tournaments and training camps...
And I've seen Larionov operate to some extent. He always has a prospect or two take part in the Red Wings' summer camps, and he almost always makes the trip to Traverse City to check on them.
He makes sure that they're being well-taken care of, and this has always stuck with me: two summers ago, MLX skates were independent (Easton bought them), and their skates cost anywhere from $1,200 to $1,800. Current Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Artem Sergeev was no star in the making, but he arrived at the camp with a brand new pair of MLX skates.
He's a passionate advocate of his clients' best interests, on and off the ice, and I believe that he's playing the bad guy for his client's sake here.
Update: Here's more from ESPN (i.e. ESPN's Craig Custance) as of 2:56 AM:
"I'm going to Edmonton on Thursday to watch a couple games against Dallas and New Jersey. Obviously a lot of questions, and I want to have some answers," Larionov said.
Yakupov has been a healthy scratch at times this season after some sophomore struggles.
"Let the kid play, enjoy the game. He's a hard-working kid. He's not lazy. He's got to be part of that team. You have to understand he's only 20 years old, he needs some support," Larionov said. "He's a goal-scorer. You've got to understand that and let the kid develop and play."
In 17 games this season, Yakupov has just two goals and is adjusting to first-year coach Dallas Eakins' system after breaking in under Ralph Krueger as a rookie. Last season, Yakupov scored 17 goals, including 11 goals in 14 April games. The strong finish raised expectations for this season, expectations that haven't been reached so far.
Larionov said he'd like to sit down with Eakins, whom he doesn't know. He said he already has had conversations with Edmonton general manager Craig MacTavish and made it clear that they would be open to a trade if the Oilers have soured on the forward.
"I asked Craig, I said, 'If you guys [are] not happy with him or you have no room for him ... we're willing to make a move. Any team,' " Larionov said. "That happens and that's part of life. Let's move on."
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