A rumor out of Russia claims Oilers forward Nail Yakupov could bolt for the KHL, plus the latest on Sabres forward Thomas Vanek.
PUCK DADDY: Greg Wyshynski cited tweets from Sports.ru reporter Igor Eronko in which the coach of Nail Yakupov’s former KHL team claimed there’s a chance the young winger could return to Russia, adding Yakupov’s father “saw possible future problems” back in the summer. Wyshynski then noted a tweet from ESPN’s Craig Custance, who cited Yakupov’s agent Igor Larionov denied his client gave any thought of returning to the KHL.
THE SPORTING NEWS: Sean Gentille cited tweets from Sport-Express.ru columnist Slava Malamud in which Yakupov denied his father was trying to stir things up or that he had any talks with his former KHL team. Yakupov added he loved playing in Edmonton, though he was unhappy over being a healthy scratch.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Yakupov’s two-game benching was bound to generate questions about his future with the Oilers. Even if Yakupov wanted to return to the KHL, he’s under contract through 2014-15 with the Oilers. The NHL and KHL have an agreement to honor each other’s contract, so unless Yakupov “retired” (with the Oilers blessing) to return to the KHL, he won’t be returning to Russia this season or next.
I think the bigger question is, does Yakupov become trade bait if the Oilers go shopping for a quality goaltending? Let’s face it, Devan Dubnyk’s really struggling and Jason Labarbera isn’t the kind of backup Dubnyk needs. Unless they want to take a chance on free agents like Ilya Bryzgalov, Jose Theodore or Rick DiPietro, they’ll have to jump into the trade market soon, where they could be forced to part with a quality asset to land a decent goalie. Given they’ve invested long term in Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sam Gagner, Yakupov seems the likely candidate. He carries an affordable contract and would have significant trade value.
THE BUFFALO NEWS/TWINCITIES.COM: Rumors persist Sabres winger Thomas Vanek could sign with the Minnesota Wild next summer as an unrestricted free agent. Vanek will remain a trade candidate this season until he’s re-signed or dealt. The Wild, however, must also ensure they leave enough cap space to re-sign young players Jonas Brodin, Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund, whose contracts expire at the end of next season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: For his part, Vanek isn’t getting wrapped up in the rumor chatter, claiming he’s not ruling out re-signing with the Sabres. If he is shopped, the Sabres could have a tough time moving him if rival clubs believe he’ll head to Minnesota next summer.