Monday, June 26, 2017

Nail Yakupov will not be tendered offer; becomes UFA

In an earlier post, I briefly touched on the possibility of potential bust Nail Yakupov being a target for the Capitals in free agency.  Now that the news is official, it is time to evaluate whether or not Yakupov is worth a roster slot, and if so, at what cost.

The main reason we are even in a position to discuss a 23 year old former #1 overall draft pick in unrestricted free agency is because of how underwhelming Yakupov has been as a player.  Lazy, uninterested, and/or ineffective, Yakupov has been hugely disappointing.  

However, there is value in that, as Brett Connolly can attest to: Connolly, himself a high first round draftee who has largely underwhelmed, set a career high with 15 goals, good for 7th on a stacked Capitals roster, is due for a raise over the $800k he earned this past season.  While Yakupov may not sign for quite as little as Connolly did, he can provide similar offense to Wilson or Winnik for less financial commitment.

Assuming Yakupov continues to play an average of 78% of his team's games (68 games), and scores at his average goals/minute, he would score 9 goals, or 2 more than Wilson, along with 11 assists.  This calculation also assumes that Yakupov would play the same 10 minutes per game that Connolly logged last year.  However, for most of his short career, including last year's aberration, Yakupov has generated shots well: his 8.07 SOG/60 falls somewhere between Ryan Kesler's 7.42 and Connor McDavid's 8.27.  Through 4 years in Edmonton, he averaged 8.43 SOG/60, though his scoring projections would be the same.

Connolly, by contrast, has averaged 6.91 SOG/60; his 6.88 with the Capitals brought the average down marginally.

All this has to be further put into context.  Since his outstanding rookie year, during which he was on pace for 29 goals had the NHL season not begun in January, he has scored on 7.5% of his shots on goal.  Granted his shooting 21% as a rookie was unsustainable, but he probably can convert better than what he has since.  Even a moderate improvement, to the league average for forwards of 10.753%, would make a profound difference of roughly an additional 3 goals per season.

For most of his career, Yakupov has played more prominent roles on far less talented teams.  While he may not be the best fit for fourth line duty, and regular third line work may be too much to ask, tasking him with playing spot duty alongside speedsters like Kuznetsov and Burakovsky/Johansson, or with bulls like Eller and Wilson could prove that Yakupov is the needle in the haystack.

For a team desperate for cap room, that cheap value may be just what is needed.

That is, unless he goes for the safe money in Russia.  

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