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Oilers' Nail Yakupov barred from KHL

Nail Yakupov is unable to play any more games in the KHL until a dispute with Hockey Canada and the...

Nail Yakupov is unable to play any more games in the KHL until a dispute with Hockey Canada and the OHL's Sarnia Sting has been settled. (David Bloom/QMI Agency/Files)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:40 AM ET

EDMONTON - Edmonton Oilers prospect Nail Yakupov wasn't even born back when the Soviet Union refused to let its hockey players to leave the Motherland to play in North America, but he is face to face with his own Iron Curtain right now.

Or is it a Wall of Confusion.

Whatever it is, he can't escape Canada to play in Russia.

After signing with Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk and playing two games in the KHL, Yakupov has now discovered that either Hockey Canada or the Sarnia Sting are trying to make him play in the OHL against his will.

Hockey Canada says it's fighting for Sarnia's rights, while Sarnia says it knows nothing about this.

Yes, it's a mess.

Yakupov needs an International Transfer Card, which must be signed by Hockey Canada, in order to play in the KHL. Turns out he doesn't have one yet and was actually playing in the KHL illegally. His team has been fined and he's been suspended until the dispute is resolved.

He can still get a transfer card, but must have it signed by Hockey Canada. Problem is, they won't sign it because Yakupov has a standard entry-level deal that stipulates he must either play for Edmonton or return to Sarnia.

So the first pick overall now faces the prospect of giving up his major-league salary in Russia and return to Junior for $100 a week.

That would be a major score for the Sting, but head coach and GM Jacques Beaulieu said Wednesday afternoon that his team is not behind this, that they are not pushing to bring Yakupov back, and didn't even know about the Hockey Canada decision until Tuesday night.

"Not at all, we wouldn't do anything to hinder any kid," said Beaulieu. "We're not in the business of standing in the way of any player's development. We would never do that."

But later in the evening, Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson said they're fine with Yakupov playing in Russia, that the hold-up is in Sarnia.

"Hockey Canada cannot sign the international transfer card for Nail Yakupov until the Sarnia Sting club releases this player from his contract," Nicholson said in a statement from IIHF meetings in Japan. "If Sarnia advises Hockey Canada that it has released the player, Hockey Canada will sign his transfer card."

It sounds like something Sarnia could have nipped in the bud a long time ago, but apparently that hasn't happened. Speaking Wednesday afternoon, Beaulieu sounded like someone who was expecting to get Yakupov back.

"We don't blame these kids (for going to Russia)," he said. "If they're going to go and make that kind of money, it's pretty hard to stop them. But there are rules according to Hockey Canada and the IIHF. Nail is under contract till 2013 with the Sting, so that's the reason why I think they upheld it."

Having said that, Beaulieu added they'd love to have him back.

"We'd be crazy not to," he said.

Yakupov said via Twitter that he wants to stay with Neftekhimik, which is also his home town, and hopes to get the ruling overturned in his favour.

The Oilers, meanwhile, would rather have Yakupov playing in the KHL, which is a considerable step up from the quality of play he'd be exposed to back in Junior. He appeared quite happy playing elite league hockey in his hometown and, as a marquee name on Neftekhimik, the Oilers are quite content he was being well looked after.

If it's ruled he has to return to Sarnia, they're OK with that, too. They just want him playing somewhere, and not sitting around for two weeks while the dispute runs its course.

Yakupov had 80 goals and 170 points in 107 career games for the Sting.

He was held without a point in his two games with Neftekhimik.

Follow me on TWITTER.com/SUN_TYCHKOWSKI

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@Sunmedia.ca


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