I don’t know about you, but I found myself fixated on Nikita Nikitin as he lurched around the ice shift after shift for the Edmonton Oilers on the way to a 4-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets at Rexall Place Monday. I was half-expecting a leg or an arm to fall off. Thankfully, no.

Whether Nikitin was throwing a pizza up the middle of the ice by way of a backhand pass or clunking around like a dump truck in a gravel pit with a broken axle, barely managing to keep his legs under him as yet another Winnipeg forward darted by, I couldn’t take my gaze off him, even as my eyeballs started to ache.

I found myself trying to recall if I’d ever seen a more awkward, painful-to-watch performance by an Oiler defenseman. For all the years I’ve followed the team, I couldn’t think of one. I don’t recall Gord Mark, a lumbering farm boy who made it to the NHL on sheer determination and by my measuring stick (bless his big heart), being as bad. I can’t even put Steve Smith’s bank-shot off Grant Fuhr in that category for stench from start to finish of a game. That was a really good defenseman having a terrible moment.

No, I don’t remember a single 60-minute performance as bad as the one delivered Monday by Nikitin, signed and kept by GM Craig MacTavish in the same season Jeff Petry was sent packing. Perhaps my perception of Nikitin’s performance Monday is tainted by the bigger picture, which has taken ugly well beyond the misadventures of any single game.



Nikitin, simply put, was brutal against the Jets. Compounding matters, the sloth-like blueliner was forced into playing more minutes (25:47), including one shift that lasted 3:29, by an injury to captain Andrew Ference. 



Nikitin is in a no-win situation. Being grossly overpaid at $4.5 million a season on a two-year deal isn’t his fault. MacTavish decided spending that much money was a good idea. Nikitin took it. So would you. So would I. That’s a given. What is Nikitin’s fault is he didn’t show up to collect his money in shape and that he’s been mostly terrible when he’s managed to actually stay in the line-up.

The most troubling issue with Nikitin, of course, is MacTavish’s declaration that he sees the plodding Russian as a top-four defenseman, which he has proven beyond any reasonable doubt he is not at this stage of his career. That astounding assessment, as has been discussed at length, represents a total disconnect from what anybody with functioning eyes can see.

MacTavish is either the worst judge of ability on the entire planet or he’s showing the same stubborn unwillingness to admit a glaring mistake – like the hiring of Dallas Eakins — we’ve seen from him before. Either way, if Nikitin is anything resembling a regular top-four option with the Oilers next season, the Oilers will remain face down at the bottom of the standings.

Given all the holes on the back end – the group MacTavish is “comfortable” with — and that it would be a mistake to rush Oscar Klefbom into minutes he’s not ready for and to force-feed Darnell Nurse into the line-up before he’s ready, burying Nikitin rather than buying him out (I think he should) might be the best option. 

At the very least, MacTavish has to admit Nikitin isn’t what he thought he was and find a warm body or two during the off-season that bumps him into the third pairing or, better yet, a seat in the press box as the seventh man.



  • Talk about the merits or lack of same in trading Taylor Hall to address other needs with Edmonton’s roster popped up again last night after Sportsnet analyst Corey Hirsch opined that Hall isn’t “developing.”

    I’ve said before and I’ll say again that I don’t think anybody on the roster of a team as bad as the Oilers should be untouchable because that scenario depends entirely on the return, but Hall trade talk based on Hirsch’s arms-length assessment while the team staggers toward the end of another putrid season is nothing but noise.

  • Jordan Eberle’s tear in recent weeks has him sitting at 20-38-58 in 72 games, which is impressive given how he mightily struggled out of the gate this season. Eberle, discussed as trade bait at great length before he shook off some bumps and bruises and got going, has scored 5-12-17 in his last 12 games. The five goals have come on 26 shots. Eberle is shooting at 12 per cent on the season. 
  • The Oilers will mark Fan Appreciation Night against the Dallas Stars Friday. The question is how? The Oilers have managed just 12 wins in 36 games at Rexall Place this season and have won just 68 of 183 home dates since the start of 2010-11. A refund might be a start, no? Sure, that’ll happen.
  • Petry has played more than 20 minutes, including 26:25 against the Los Angeles Kings on March 5, in nine of his 10 games with the Montreal Canadiens since being traded by the Oilers.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.

  • paul wodehouse

    I don’t understand all the whining about Dubnyk. He couldn’t stop a beach ball when he was here. At least MacT got something (Hendricks) for him. Ask Nashville or Montreal what they got. Dubnyk played 2 games for Nashville and then they shipped him to the minors. He was later waived and subsequently traded to Montreal for “future considerations”. Montreal assigned him to the minors and then released him at the end of the year. Montreal clearly got nothing, and I can’t imagine that the “future considerations” they paid to Nashville amounted to anything either. If MacT is a poor judge of talent, then obviously Nashville and Montreal are too.
    And for those of you who complain that MacT ruined his confidence, give me a break! From a very early age, all athletes know that you either play up to expectations, or you don’t play. To survive in professional sport, you need to be mentally tough, and if you fall apart when your play is criticized, then maybe you should consider another line of work. Dubnyk spent 10 years in the Oilers organization and was almost 28 years old when the Oilers finally dumped him. MacT clearly couldn’t wait any longer for him to grow up. Nashville and Montreal obviously didn’t either.
    I’m glad to see Dubnyk has turned his game around and is having success in Minny. He should actually thank MacT… Sometimes it’s only when you’re staring into the abyss that you actually begin to see.

    • S cottV

      I would agree that Dubnyk needed to find a way to avoid cratering to the extent that seemed to have occurred.

      On balance though – I don’t think a lot of people understand just how screwed up the Eakins swarm really was. That thing was giving up glaring scoring chances every single game, while Dubnyk was struggling to hold it together in the net.

      I remember many games where you had to blame the swarm for at least 2. You cant give up 2 that should have never occurred because you are gonna give up 2 on average anyway. Can’t win many games giving up 4 ga’s.

      Here’s Dubnyk – needing a contract to support his family and he’s got this dumb@ass swarm going on in front him? Suck it up? Well ok – to some extent, but goaltenders do much better when they are supported with strong defensive team play. Oilers culture is terrible at providing goalie support at the best of times, let alone adding the actions of pompous mad man and his swarm into the picture.

      Beyond that – MacT and the people around him, get paid to get player evaluations right. They need to see beyond what we see, by being up close and very astute in their observations. They need to get it right – way more often than not.

      Like a lot of guys on this site, I didn’t like what happened to Dubnyk. Oilers culture + the swarm and you really cannot properly evaluate goaltender performance.

      Regardless – MacT and his men needed to be able to see there was still a goaltender worth supporting in Dubnyk and they didn’t.

      It’s a cold hard NHL hockey world – sure – for Dubnyk, but also for MacT.

      What is going on with Dubnyk right now, cannot be dismissed as just one of those things that happen.

      MacT blew it.

      • freelancer

        Absolutely Bang on in your assessment. They are showing to be incapable of evaluating their D men as well. So we can basically say our GM cannot assess talent. Wow what a great time to be an Oiler fan.

  • What are you all bitching about?

    The season is lost, let the Jets win so they can make playoffs over LA.

    Nikitin got hurt so he didn’t play most of the year, Ference got hurt in the game so they might as might played the heck out of Nikitin in meaningless game.

    If this game was for a playoff spot then all the critics and fans can complain and scream their head off.

    I m a fan living in Ontario, I think people live in Edmonton with the cold winter is screwing up their brains. Complain and complain about anything and everything.

    Stop complaining, only 9 more games left and you all can look forward your spring and summer.

    Nobody want to sign and play in Edmonton, so MacT had to get somebody with NHL experience in to play instead of AHL Dmen. You complain NHL players and you complain AHL players playing for the team.

    Only 16 teams make playoffs and 14 will miss it, so other 14 team fans bitching this much too?

  • Nikitin has 9 more games as an oiler. MacT gambled. It didn’t pay off. He’ll cut his losses at the end of the season. It how things go in life. It’s possible that any of us who blogs on here will make a mistake in our jobs at some point…maybe even today. We learn, we grow, and we move on.

  • Gordie Wayne

    I have decided to cancel my seasons tickets last night and slept on overnight to make sure this is the decision I really wanted to make. I have held tickets in the golds for approximately 25 years and during this time ( when Pocklington was considering moving the team to Houston) I also purchased 2 additional to provide further support for the team through that crisis.

    I am not then a Johnny come lately as I have supported this team through a lot of ups and downs. This is not the first year we have had poor teams with terrible management but it is by far the worst. In the 50 plus years I have watched professional sports in this community I cannot remember a worse team nor a team that is so disrespectful to its fan base. A mea culpa from senior management might have got me through another year but the only way that occurs now is if Katz fires Lowe and McTavish who shun the public’s concerns until there is such a media backlash until they cannot ignore it anymore. I have no doubt the goalie coach, Dallas Eakins and Sam Gagner would still be here if the public had not backed up in arms. Now we are going through this again with Nikitin. It is a funny thing but I have learned watching particularly politics and also pro sports that the public in retrospect is almost always correct when it gets this worked up.

    But we are saddled with two managers who have shown time and again they are ill suited for their roles who also combine that with personalities of arrogance, being know it alls, and continuing to make what could only be at best described as intuitive player personnel and draft decisions–these decisions represent the worse type of arrogance as they seem to think they always know better when making their decisions that defy the conventional wisdom expressed by respected hockey analysts, management from other teams and a very educated fan base. One only has to read this internet site-there are many individuals who really know hockey and their opinions should not be lightly ignored.

    Contrast us to the other Canadian teams except Toronto. Their management teams are not old boys (Trevor Linden is just a figure head). The people that make the decisions in these organizations have all worked their way up to the position they now hold. Look at how astutely all of these teams have rebuilt their rosters over the last 3 years. I watched the Winnipeg game 2 nights ago. We are now miles away from beating that team and they didn’t even have Little, Byfuglien playing with Wheeler also missing most of the game. We would get killed by a team like that if we ever get to the playoffs.

    The ball rests with you Mr Katz, I will not renew my tickets unless you dismiss these 2 gentlemen and then hire a headhunter to assist you in finding the most qualified candidates to replace them. Some obvious candidates come to mind –Paul Fenton assistant manager of Nashville; Mike Futa director of player personnel from L.A.,; Julien Brisebois assistant general manager of Tampa Bay–all of these gentleman come from organizations where they have been instrumental to making wise hockey decisions for years.

  • Kr55

    Nikitin is without a doubt the worst performance per dollar Dman the Oilers have ever had. $4.5M for a #7/8 D, on a bad team. Competitor for worst value Oiler ever period.

    Congrats MacT, you continue to set new standards. Worst Oilers coach ever, worst value D ever. And you manage to fire/alienate a way better person/player for the equivalent job at the same time you bring these poor performers in. Best GM ever!

    And I don’t buy that Nikitin was out of shape this year. Eakins, Mr Fitness freak was playing him 20+ mins a night at the start of the year before he got hurt. At the same time Eakins was keeping Marincin down because of fitness issues. Doesn’t add up. Nikitin himself questioned what MacT was talking about and said he was in shape to start the season. The Nikitin fitness comment are just MacT making excuses to try to make himself look better. Nikitin is just bad at hockey no matter his fitness level. There was a reason he was being buried on the Columbus depth chart before we threw 4.5M/season at him.

  • Rdubb

    Would Edmonton be better off to send Nikitan down to their AHL affiliate either the rest of this season or put him there next yr, and perhaps someone would scoop him up? And if not, why not try and recall him and see if someone will take him @ that point?
    Have the rules changed @ all in regards to recalling players, where as in the past teams would have to pay 1/2 the salary if someone picked up the player on a recall, or did that change with the new CBA?
    If Edmonton does not buy Nikitan out during the summer and MacT comes clean and admits that he made a huge error in listening to former CBJ manager Howeson, then, @ least MacT should send his rear-end down to the far until he learns something in regards to work ethic and defensive play…

  • tileguy

    Several months ago my feelings were that the Oilers should waive Nikitin. If he passed he could try to rediscover a NHL game in the minors. if he didn’t pass then au revoir!

  • freelancer

    I’m going to disagree with MacT saying that we can’t trade ourselves out of this mess. Look at the Islanders, they were atrocious for years, even with guys like Tavares. Then, they traded a fourth round pick for Halak, They got Boychuk for two second round picks, Leddy for some prospects. They brought in Kulemin and Grabovski as UFA.

    • bazmagoo

      MacT is putting Tambellini to shame, and stealing his moniker – Mr Dithers. But let’s not fool ourselves and think Craig has total control over personnel decisions, he doesn’t. The only question remaining is – How Lowe Can We Go?

    • Oiler Fan 16

      I agree 100%. But that would require MacT learning how to evaluate talent and negotiate.

      He would have been correct if he stated that He can’t trade out of this mess, because He cannot.

      A real GM would at least try. A real GM would also add with trades at the very least to build. Of course a real GM wouldn’t be named MacTravesty…

  • freelancer

    The Edmonton Oilers should stop going back to the well to hire their employees. Craig left/got fired as coach. Scott Howson left. Billy Moores left. What did Kevin Lowe do? Hire em all back. Then they use the opinion of the fired Scott Howson to go sign free agents. WaaaLa enter Nitkin! I don’t get it. Why pick up someone else’s trash? One mans trash is another mans treasure? Maybe it was part or getting Howson back?

    We need Lowe gone, MacT gone, Howson gone, and all coaches.

    Let’s see what it takes to get Hitchcock to GM and Babcock to coach.

    Let’s finally start the dream team.

    Come on KATZ! Have some accountability.

    GO OIL

  • freelancer

    Ar random?

    Here goes, Michel Therrien after last night’s game:

    “Therrien was pleased his guys reached 100 points.“It’s an accomplishment,” the coach said, “but we have a lot of work to do.”

    Mean while in Deadmonton:

    MacT: “I find the team visibly better.”

    Here’s my question: Who’s stupid? MacT or the Oilers fans?

    • S cottV

      I take offense to the term “Deadmonton” – that was a term from 10-15 years ago when a reporter called the city that when no one showed up to a world renown track and field competition held here.

      Compare that to the 70,000 fans who showed up to crashed ice. The culture in this city has changed and I think we can shake that name now.

      Have some pride in your city and give up the name “Deadmonton”. We may not be the City of Champs anymore, despite Gregor pushing to keep the name at the Journal, but we are far from “dead”.

      • tileguy

        Crashed Ice was a free event. If a big name entertainer came to town and plays at the new arena that my taxes helped to pay for, why must I go to the back of the line for a ticket behind people that can afford to shell out $10,000 for hockey tickets (good lord).

        The culture in this city is changing, led by Katz.

    • bazmagoo

      At this stage I’d have to say the fans. Anyone who is plunking down hundreds/thousands of dollars to trek out to Rexall Place to watch this team in person is a fool. Sorry to be blunt guys, but it’s just reality.

  • As much as I love how Dubnyk is doing, as much as the Oil dropped the ball on him. Can we be a little more objective? Nash, Mtl, and Arizona crapped the bed in their eye for talent as well. And those are teams that have had some of the best goalies in the league the past 5 years.

    MacT wasn’t the only one. This ain’t just a MacT issue.

    • S cottV

      OMG – he left here damn near broken.

      Shaken confidence – in deep crap, without a contract, young family to support – punted by the team that drafted him.

      These guys are human.

      Eakins and the swarm was an abomination.

      MacT hiring that idiot was an abomination.

      MacT not fessing up and allowing Eakins and the swarm to continue the rocky picture horror show – was an abomination.

      You have to reasonably support your goaltenders.

      It understandably took Dubnyk time to pick up the broken pieces and get his game back.

      We had a starter and at very least a solid backup goaltender in Dubnyk and the MacT mangled it.

  • Spoils

    buy out Nikitn – use the cap space to put pressure on a team with a decent defender that we can shake loose.

    sign Roy

    sign another veteran Center who can play wing.

    sign a REAL goalie.

    wait to see how we draft to make a decision on a major trade.

  • Spoils

    Could someone tell me who we voted for Goat of the Year was going to be back in September? I believe it was Petry. But man alive has Nikitan taken the Goat by the horns and ran with it this season. he has owned the Goat title like a mantle of honor. Could one player have drawn the ire and derision of the fanbase more than NN has done this year, We have had some real winners in the Goat catergory in the past. From Sam Gagner to Shawn Horcoff to Can Barker. We have had our goats. But Nikita Nikitan has brought it to a new level.

    There is no turning back for the fanbase. There is no redemption. If MacT wishes to satiate the blood lust at the end of the season for the fans he’ll buy out Nikitan and spend the 3 million dollars he saves on a real honest to hockey defencemen. I’m not asking for Shea Weber but a reasonable fascimle of a defenceman would be nice

  • S cottV

    Worst performance ever? Maybe, but I recall seeing Ray McKay back in the WHA days lumbering up ice on a clean breakaway (against the Cleveland Barons?) in a nearly empty and silent coliseum; as McKay neared the blueline a wag in the crowd yelled, “Hey McKay, telephone!!”. Upon which McKay promptly mishandled the puck and skated harmlessly in the wrong direction. For fans of a certain age, this is exemplary of McKay’s time in Edmonton. Is Nikitin THAT bad? Perhaps…

  • paul wodehouse

    So, you’re saying that Russians are lazy?

    …I’ve seen OVECHKIN give up! …

    Only Russian players show up to camp out of shape?
    …Brownlee seems to think NN did!

    Only Russians play Careers without winning a cup?

    …There’s a long list of ones who did win Cups!

    I don’t see your point.

    …now go away Wax

  • The Oilers Shot Clock

    MacT is not an idiot and Nikitin is a terrible hockey player, so whats the correlation here?

    Surely if everyone sees it then he does to, in spite of his recent comments suggesting otherwise.

    Signing Nikitin to term and dollars was a mistake.
    Letting Petry go when he would have cost less was a mistake.

    The bigger mistake is still to come if he cant confess that this was a screw up. Errs in judgement and bad decisions are only really harmful when they are not admitted.MacT is lying to himself…this is the worst part of it all.

    “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”
    Franklin D. Roosevelt