The Contrarian: Netting Out

by Demetri Fragopoulos on April 3, 2016

Why would the Oilers draft Nail Yakupov if most of their scouts did not want to draft him?

Much has been written about the Edmonton Oilers ‘luck’ at obtaining the first overall pick, their scouting staff, and the ineffectiveness of their picks. In the recent week it was notably about Nail Yakupov.

“Nine to two” starts an article by Mark Spector of Sportsnet, which details how the Oilers scouting staff did not want to select Yakupov and yet the team did just that.

As he describes it, “that morning proceeded strangely.”

The scouts were asked to vote and vote again, no matter what was tabulated. In the end it was nine scouts against Yakupov and two for in drafting him as the first overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

This is not entirely new news though.

Back in December 2014 the same Mark Spector wrote, “The Edmonton Oilers scouts did not want Yakupov at the draft table that day,” and he suggested that, “everything needs to change in Oilers organization.”

Andrew Ference was quoted, “We’re still hammering the same nail.” The foreshadowing of his comment could not have been anticipated.

Spector critiques Yakupov’s performance in 2014, and it was not flattering. He cheats defensively, others do the hard work, and he is “flaccid.”

He provides another evaluation from an unnamed scout who warned about selecting Yakupov. Of Yakupov’s 2016 performance, they said, “He still doesn’t know where to go. His feet are moving 100 miles an hour, his stick is beating the hell out of the puck, and he doesn’t have a clue where he’s going and what he’s going to do with it.”

Spector rightfully does not stop there. His eyes turn toward the scouts’ effectiveness writing back then. “Of all the things wrong with this team, its draft record is the worst derelict, most culpable for its annual failures,” and their list of prospects were tagged as, “a sorry lot brazened by ‘maybes’”.

With eyes to the present, he declares, “The fact is, missing out on the best player in 2012 runs parallel with that group’s strength in player evaluation, post 2006.”

Others have done similar examinations. They include NHLNumbers, Oilers Nation, Edmonton Journal citing The Hockey News, SB Nation’s Copper & Blue, The Oilers Rig, and Lowetide.

At the time they did not know the vote count, so that led me to try and figure out the shot.

With the help of those articles and profiles on eliteprospects.com I have been able to find the following information about the Oilers management and their respective capacities back in 2012 (three tables):

Person

Position

Scope – Amateur Players

Stu MacGregor *

Director of Amateur Scouting

All

Kent Hawley *

Scout

OHL

Brad Davis *

Scout

OHL

Bob Brown

Scout

WHL/USHL/Tier II

Jim Crosson

Scout

WHL/USHL/Tier II

Frank Musil

Scout

Europe

Pelle Eklund

Scout

Europe

Robert Nordmark *

Scout

Europe

Matti Virmanen

Scout

Europe

Bill Dandy

Scout

QMJHL

Scott Harlow

Scout

NCAA

Joseph Cucci

Scout

North-Eastern US?

Dave Heitz

Scout

Goalies

 

Person

Position

Scope – Pro Players

Morey Gare *

Director of Pro Scouting

All

Dave Semenko *

Scout

Not applicable for this

Michael Abbamont *

Scout

Not applicable for this

Chris Cichocki

Scout

Not applicable for this

Duane Sutter

Scout

Not applicable for this

 

Person

Position

Scope – Everything

Daryl Katz

Owner

 

Kevin Lowe

President

Hockey Operations

Craig MacTavish

Senior Vice-President

Hockey Operations

Steve Tambellini *

General Manager

 

Ricky Olczyk *

Assistant General Manager

 

Rick Carriere

Director

Player Development

Billy Moores *

Director

Player Development

James McGregor

Unconfirmed outside scout at the time

 

 (* indicates that the person is no longer with the club)

By my count there were 11 amateur scouts (not including MacGregor who, as the story indicates was not part of the vote, and the goalie scout), so the vote count seems to be validated.

Yet also from the referenced articles, we know one of Yakupov’s supporters was a European scout, and we also know that both OHL scouts did not have him ranked number one. One had him outside of his top five and the other had him ranked at number two.

The OHL scouts were axed. Interesting is it not? Firing the people who were not in favour of the selection seems odd.

Spector could be on to something, but even if they had chosen defenseman Ryan Murray, the team’s fortunes would not have improved, and Murray would be in exactly the same predicament Yakupov is in.

The ones that made the call to draft Yakupov were not the only ones who ranked him so high.

Copper & Blue, The Hockey News, Montreal Gazette, Edmonton Journal, TSN – Bob McKenzie, TSN – Craig Button, Lowetide, Hockey Prospectus, International Scouting Services, The Globe and Mail and Sportsnet all said that Yakupov was the consensus number one pick.

How could all those people and organizations be so wrong? Should these people lose their jobs too?

Instead of framing the circumstance on whom they should have picked, how about asking how they let a top prospect get ruined?

In fantasy hockey we have no control on how a player develops. How much they have to learn before they are trusted with top line minutes and power play opportunities. We make our own evaluations and hope that the player progresses.

It seems that Oilers management is doing the same thing, and that is sad for the player and for the team. There are two streams that they could have followed.

First, “you take the best player available,” which was mentioned by Ken Campbell in the above Hockey News link. From there you develop the player into what you want them to be or you showcase them so you can trade them away for what the club wants and needs.

The alternative is to trade the pick away as Rick Dudley did, which is what Mackenzie Liddell illustrates in the Sportsnet link.

Which is the better path? It does not matter. As long as you know what your goal is.

I am sure that you can recall points in time during the various fantasy drafts that you participated in where you were faced in picking a player you did not want to take.

Personal hate because they play for your home team rival, hate because they play for your home team which sucks, historical fear of being a Band-Aid Boy, fear of deterioration in production, or plain inexperience.  You make a call, pick and try to trade later or trade the pick (if you can) and get something else that you need.

I believe the Oilers faced the same problem at the 2012 draft, and they chose Yakupov to avoid embarrassment. They did not want to give him to someone else, only to be ridiculed if he turned into the next Pavel Bure.

If, as the unnamed scout identifies, he does not know where to go on the ice, shouldn’t the coaching staff be guiding him? Should he not have honed is craft and skills in a lesser league? Think what the Toronto Maple Leafs are currently doing with their prospects.

If someone like former interim coach Todd Nelson was able to get Yakupov to respond, Spector wrote “When Todd Nelson took over behind the Oilers bench Yakupov’s game blossomed, with 9 goals and 20 points in his final 28 games”, then the possibility to be showcased and traded was there.

Instead we hear that Yakupov requested a trade to get out of Oiltown before it was too late for him. Is any NHL GM going to pay top dollar for him under these circumstances?

Single year leagues, keeper leagues, long term plan, versus short term goals… it all depends on what you are looking to do, but decide and make it happen.

The Oilers have been waffling, and that is why they are in the same position probably picking first overall again this year.

*

Speaking of waffling… by now you must have heard about the Florida Panthers and the delay of game penalties they were issued when their fans through plastic rats onto the ice. The rule is under Section 9, Rule 63.4 – Objects Thrown on the Ice.

How does this pertain to the Oilers? A good question.

I have been thinking about this rule ever since people started to talk about teams tanking. At first I did not want to write about it because of the possibility that someone would read my comments and then act on them. I know, highly unlikely. 🙂

Nonetheless, if you are a fan of a team that is looking to tank, why not help them out and let them kill a few of these penalties each game.

I am not saying that you should throw dangerous items like batteries, glass, or coins, but things like stuffed animals, plastic rats, octopi, waffles, or hamburger patties. Even those things can cause injuries and fans could be kicked out of a game or even arrested.

As the rule is written, it can be taken advantage of and fans of a team that is looking to fall in the standings can influence the results.

That could never happen, right?

Bet you would have also said that John Scott would never have made an All-Star Game, never mind being the highest vote getter and MVP.

So how would the league react to an abuse of this specific rule?

The instant answer is that they would put up netting everywhere, and all that would do is hurt the enthusiasm generated by warranted occasions like hat-tricks or special milestones.

The true solution is to motivate teams not to tank, and with that I re-introduce my simple notion of having teams that fall out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to go into the Lottery Playoffs.

It works better if there are also 16 teams, but the basics are that all non-Stanley Cup challenging teams earn a certain number of ping-pong balls for their regular season performances, but half of what they are currently issued. The other half are earned via a lottery playoffs of their own. If you win a series, you earn more chances at winning the Entry Draft Lottery.

The series should be short, one and done or possibly two-out-of-three. The message is that every team has to strive to perform as well as they can through the whole season.

Plus the individual clubs/NHL/NHLPA can generate more hockey related revenue from the added games and attention. Heck, people tune in for the lottery announcement.

In the end, keep the netting out and focus on netting the players you want on your team.