Katz Apologizes; Yakupov Plays

Nail Yakupov (Aaron Bell/CHL Images)

The Edmonton Oilers have been in the news quite a bit this week, but not exactly for good reason. Oilers owner Daryl Katz made waves when he and a group of team brass flew to Seattle to check out the cities arena. The visit prompted a sea of reports that the Oilers franchise may re-locate because of failed attempts to get a new arena deal. Many felt it was simply a negotiating ploy on the part of Katz, who didn’t appear to be on the same page as the City council. Today, Katz took out a full page ad in the Edmonton Journal apologizing to the fans in Edmonton.

Apparently the visit wasn’t supposed to be public information, but in the age of social media, it’s hard to believe that Katz actually thought it would stay private. Whether he did it to gain leverage, or sincerely didn’t want his visit to go public remains to be seen, but either way the cover-up is in full effect. In the letter Katz claims that he has no intention of moving the Oilers and that he is confident that a new deal will get done. The two sides have met and discussions are underway. According to the letter, Katz claims that he isn’t the best communicator. But you don’t get to a position where you can own a sports franchise if you didn’t know a thing or two about business, so this situation may continue to get ugly. For the sake of a great hockey town, here’s hoping there is no relocation in their future.

The other Oilers news making headlines? Well that would be the controversy surrounding Edmonton’s prized first overall pick, Nail Yakupov. Yakupov went over to Russia to play for his hometown during the lock-out, but after just two games, a contract dispute put his playing on hold. Hockey Canada claimed that they had not signed Yakupov’s International Transfer Card, thus he was ineligible to play in the KHL. And that reason for that? He was still under contract with the Sarnia Sting of the OHL, and they hadn’t released him to play elsewhere. Yakupov has no desire to go back to Junior, and the Oilers wanted him playing with the best competition possible. However the Sting were reluctant to let him go.

After both disappointment and confusion expressed by Yakupov, his agent and his father, the issue was thankfully sorted out. There were negotiations between Vladislav Tretiak of the Russian Hockey Federation and Bob Nicholson of Hockey Canada that resulted in this press release from Hockey Canada:

“Hockey Canada and the Russian Ice Hockey Federation have announced that the OHL has determined that Yakupov had no independent legal advice when, at the age of 17 years old, he signed his contract with Sarnia. His release goes into effect immediately.”(Yahoo Sports)

So all is well that ends well for Yakupov and his KHL team. But the whole matter brings to the light the concern that the OHL could lose players in this manner in the future, something that would be detrimental to the league. Whether or not Sarnia gets some kind of compensation for losing Yakupov is unclear, but one would hope that an issue like this doesn’t arise again anytime soon. Easiest thing to do is to blame the lock-out.