Buying Out Nikitin

Later tonight the window for NHL buyouts opens up. That
window opens 48 hours after the Stanley Cup is awarded and will close before
free agency so any club who needs to buy out a player will be on the clock
soon.

The Oilers have just one serious candidate for a buyout
right now, and that’s Nikita Nikitin.

Nikitin came to the Oilers, you may remember, via trade.
Yes, the Oilers relinquished an asset to simply have the right to negotiate
with him. They gave up a 5th round pick in the 2014 draft (137-Tyler
Bird) to get Nikitin just days before he would become a UFA. Sigh.

The Oilers signed Nikitin that very day to a two year, 9
million dollar deal that made Nikitin the highest paid
member of the Edmonton Oilers’ defense. Craig MacTavish didn’t give that kind
of money to his golden boy Justin Schultz, and did not even offer that amount to Jeff Petry.

There was reason to be extremely concerned the day that contract was signed. Actually, this is a piece that Oiler management’s newest
consultant published for Sportsnet literally the day after the deal was announced. The money quote comes at the end:

It’s hard to find good bargains in free agency. It’s harder
when you sign a player to deal that is probably only worth it if he works out
incredibly well. The Oilers might well say that they don’t need bargains,
they’ve got players on bargain contracts and they need more talent. The thing
is, it’s hard to say from his record that Nikitin is good enough to make the
Oilers better. He looks a lot more like a reclamation project who’s already
being paid as if he’s worked out. We’ll see if he’s a top-four defenceman by
February. I’m skeptical.

That skepticism turned out to be completely
warranted.

In 2013-2014 Nikitin was ranked 7th on the Blue
Jackets in TOI/G among the defense. He was ranked 4th in the two
years prior. He was already just barely a number four defender before he
started to slide right out of that position and hadn’t really shown anything
that would make you think he could bounce back.

In his first (and potentially last) season with the Oilers
he was extremely unpredictable. He wouldn’t just go through hot and
cold streaks where he would look like a top four player then fall off. No, he
would flip, shift to shift, between great play and poor play with the dial set to
poor play as its default.

bugs

His season was very much Jekyll and Hyde from beginning to
end with only injuries to change things up a bit.

Persistent back injuries limited Nikitin to only 42 games this past
season and, in all honesty, the Oilers were probably better off not having him
in the lineup. He played primarily with Fayne or Schultz, when he was healthy
enough, and his time with Schultz was an unmitigated disaster.

The Nikitin/Schultz pairing started in the offensive zone
59.1% of the time compared to the defensive zone and had a brutal 42.7% CF
rating. Without Nikitin, Schultz’ possession numbers ballooned to
51%. When using him in a de facto 1st line role he amounted to
little more than a boat anchor.

Back to the issue of being healthy enough to play. Part way through the season the Oilers, via a MacTavish
press conference let it be known that the big Russian who signed a fat contract
the previous summer had come to camp out of shape. This revelation came late
in the season as MacT discussed his defense moving forward. Here’s the quote
from the former GM: “I also feel
like with Nikitin, before he got injured, went through the back problems,
wasn’t in as good of shape coming into training camp as he should have been…”

Now that bit of
excuse making might just be hogwash because Nikita Nikitin would refute the
claim that he arrived at camp out of shape.

Whether MacTavish
was speaking the truth or he was just trying to justify Nikitin’s brutal season,
we don’t know, but we shouldn’t really care either. Hurt or not, there’s
enough going against the 4.5 million dollar defender to warrant seriously considering
buying him out.

As per
CapFriendly, buying out Nikitin today would cost the Oilers two-thirds of the
remaining deal (3 million) over two years. His cap hit to the Oilers would be
1.5 million in 2015-2016 and 1.5 million in 2016-2017. That’s a savings of 3 million on the
cap this coming year.

That’s 3 million
dollars better spent on a different player for Edmonton’s defense. As far as
risk and reward, the Oilers are in good position this year and even next to accommodate
the cap penalty of buying out Nikita Nikitin. I think this is a no brainer.
There are more appealing alternatives though.

ALTERNATIVES?

If the Hockey
gods continue to smile on the Oilers there might be a scenario where the Oilers
could possibly trade Nikitin and having him come off the books completely or
retain a bit of salary and have him off the books in a year’s time.

“But who in their
right mind would do such a thing?”, you ask.

Per @Real_ESPNLeBrun, the Arizona #Coyotes are $16 Million under the cap floor.

— Michael Augello(@MikeInBuffalo) June 17, 2015 

Teams looking to
make the salary cap floor like the Coyotes, Sabres, and Predators could all be
in a position to add salary. I think given how well the Preds did they
could attract some UFAs to make up the difference, but clubs like
Arizona and Buffalo might need some help.

Because there is
just one year left on Nikitin’s deal, he is effectively little more than a
monetary place holder for cap floor teams who are waiting to pay their young
players once they come off of their ELCs.

Is it unlikely?
Yes. Is it the most outrageous idea in the world? Probably not. In fact, letting him play out his contract as an Oiler is probably the most outrageous option currently left unspoken about. But this idea is crazy talk so I won’t expand on it.

At any rate, we
should expect to learn about Edmonton’s plans with regards to buying out Nikita
Nikitin very shortly. We wait.

  • freelancer

    Matt, can you explain the reasoning behind having the buyout period end before free agency? It strikes me that teams would want to spend on free agency, then if they are able to land certain players would look to free up space.

    • jonnyquixote

      I don’t know for certain, but I can imagine from an NHLPA perspective, when negotiating the buyout parameters, would want any “bought out” player to have the best chance possible to get a new contract, and that would mean settling their status prior to free agency. Though there is a 2nd buyout period if a team has arbitration awards/settlements, so those players kinda get screwed (as far as any millionaire getting 2/3rds of his millions can be considered “getting screwed”).

  • 24% body fat

    The amount of money MAcT wasted of Katz, (ultimately ours if we spend money on the oilers) is insane.

    Can we buy him out?

    Wait we could of but instead lets just keep him in making stupid decisions.

    Bury Niktin in the minors and give the spot to Davidson, just get him off the books as soon as possible. This is the quickest way other than a trade.

  • camdog

    Buffalo, Arizona and Nashville are looking at Cap Hell teams to prey on when they take on salary. Helping the Oiler out just makes it harder for them to get the good players off of the Cap Hell teams. I can’t imagine there were more than 2-3 teams interested in Nikitin to start last season, I imagine that number is even lower at that cap hit, even if they only have to eat half of that salary.

  • @S_2_H

    The Spring leading up to free agency, I remember Nikitin’s name was in these boards a lot as one of the solutions to our problems. And now we are here. Sad. How’s Cam Barker doing?

  • LibrarianMike

    Nikita Nikitin is a living, breathing testament to the fact that Scott Howson is garbage at evaluating talent. Hopefully he follows Nikitin out of town and finds work with another team that he can run into the ground.

  • LibrarianMike

    Good god MacT where was your head?Howdy doody “Howson” had to give hiss blessings for this deal.How the hell these two guys stay on with the team is beyond me.Losing Petry is proof MacT was winging it as a GM.Thank Christ Nicholson came in with fresh eyes or it would have continued.

  • JackB

    Yes I tend to agree!

    Why are MacTavish and Howson still around ?????

    I know they are still under contract, and still have to be paid . . . but should they be shown the door??

  • Darth Oiler

    if I was the Sabres or Coyotes, I’d be trying to trade for Ryan O’Rellly, who can be an asset this year and hopefully beyond. If I was trying to tank I’d trade for NN, but the draft changes don’t make that a useful strategy anymore.

  • Mentioned this in Gregor’s thread, but my first choice would be trade Nikitin elsewhere at retained salary. I’m thinking you could entice someone to take a gamble on Nikitin at maybe $3M (and you can go as low as $2.25M). It would at least save them from being hit next year too.

    That said, I wouldn’t at all be upset if Nikitin was just bought out (ditto on Purcell).

    I think Fayne, Ference, Klefbom will all be here next year, and we’re probably going to give Schultz another shot.. so any pennies they can pinch to sign some good D would be nice. I’d be happy with just about any transaction that sees Nikitin shipped off and some cap savings here.

    • jonnyquixote

      I wonder how much Anaheim wants to retain James Wisniewski, their expensive deadline addition who disappointed in the regular season and didn’t even suit up for a playoff game.

      He’s got 2 years left at a $5.5m hit. I don’t know why he didn’t work out in Anaheim (injury? pouting? personal issues? I know he didn’t want to leave Columbus.) But the last couple years in Columbus, he’s been a pretty useful all-situations blueliner. And a righty too.

      Swapping him for Nikitin would save the Ducks $1 million on the cap this year, $4.5 million on the cap next year, and $4 million in total salary dollars.

      Maybe a middle round pick, or a cheap mid-range prospect that might just need a change of scenery (Gernat?) as an incentive could get that deal done.

      • bradleypi

        So your answer to get rid of nikitins salary is to take on more salary and pay this salary to a guy who couldn’t crack an nhl lineup at the end of the season…. Wow! Lol I wanna say I’ve read it all on oilersnation but I’m sure even this one will get topped. This post pretty much sums up oilersnation for me. Pure hatred for nikitin. Guy only played 40 games for the oil. Lol. How can you judge a player by that??

        • radicator

          It would be different if it was his first 40 games in the NHL. This is not the case for Nikitin. To me, he didn’t look like he cared to play in this league – a shame. Use the $3 mil toward a hungry defenseman that can play in his own end.

  • nuge2drai

    Oiler Domination To Follow

    First – Assign Nikitin to the Minors. Bring him up near the deadline and trade him while retaining some salary.

    Second – Trade Ference and a third to a salary cap floor team looking for leadership (Horcoff type trade).

    Third – Sign Martin and Beauchemin.

    Martin Fayne (Shutdown)

    Beauchemin Klefbom (Offensive)

    Marincin Shultz (Soft Minutes)

  • bradleypi

    After learning that his cap hit would only be 1.5 fof 2 years it’s definitely a possibility. But in reality is PC gonna just send away the biggest dman he has? He’s definitely got the hardest shot on the team. He might be the most physical defenceman the oilers have. Not sure why oilersnation is so quick to give up on a player after an injury riddled season. Not sure if any of you have ever had a bad back but it’s tough to just get outta bed with one. He’s only got one year left. I’d see if he turns if around. I’d keep him just for his howitzer. He’s the ideal dman for the oilers power play. And if nikitin would only cost 1.5 for 2 years wouldn’t purcell cost the same? Why wouldn’t he be a serious candidate for a buyout MH? The oilers have a plethora of young forwards that can easily fill purcells skates and more. I don’t think there’s any barons defencemen that could come up and play top 4 minute.

        • radicator

          You’re right, we don’t have any of those (Except Nurse?) But we can find them, we don’t have to settle for Nikitin.

          Buy him out, then offer him $1 mil in Sept if we’re still desperate. Is this possible?

        • camdog

          Here’s the link to hits/60 minutes. The numbers say that Purcell, Schultz, Marancin, Nikitin and Roy do not bring any physicality to their game. Of course you shouldn’t need the numbers to figure this out…

    • Zarny

      Nikitin might be the most physical D the Oilers have?

      He had 21 hits in 42 games. Just for reference, Derek Roy had 29 hits in 46 games. Physicality doesn’t mean what I think you think it means.

      Yes, Purcell has been mentioned as a buyout candidate numerous times by numerous people.

      The problem with Purcell is that he’s an expensive 2/3 line tweener who has none of the intangibles you want to compliment this core other than experience. He’s like Sam Gagner, except older and on the wing.

      The problem with Nikitin, besides his back (which is never linked to poor core strength and conditioning), is if they didn’t wear jerseys you’d swear he plays for the opposition half the time.

      Nikitin doesn’t just turn the puck over by blindly throwing it up the ice…from a whiffed backhand no less.

      No, Nik adds that sweet sauce by throwing it into the slot and teeing it up just right for someone like Weber or Burns to get a good 2-4 strides in so they can really lean into a howitzer at the Oilers net.

      My personal favorite is when Nik blows a tire (only when he’s last man back) while circling 15 feet in front of the Oilers net. Again it’s his attention to detail.

      Nik isn’t satisfied with just swinging his stick from his a** Ovechkin style to direct the puck to the slot so an unimpeded opposition player can walk in alone for a prime scoring chance. No, Nik goes that extra mile to make sure the puck stops spinning and doesn’t bounce or whobble. That way it doesn’t matter who Nik turns the puck over to they can pick it up clean, in stride and get a good shot on the Oilers net.

  • camdog

    Buying out NN or not might be the first indication of how aggressive PC will be wrt making changes this year. If he buys out NN he wants to free up the cap space this year, even though it will linger onto next year as well. If he doesn’t buy out NN he is looking more to clear the decks for next year.

    • @S_2_H

      I’m with EDmonton on this.

      I expect PC to be patient this year. Keep NN. Maybe he picks it up a becomes trade deadline bait. Or ends up the 7th defenseman. Or sends him to the minors. Either way I believe his 4.5 stays on the books.

      If he does buy him out, then I’ll admit I’m wrong and will expect PC to make some sweeping changes. But really, he’ll be in a better position to do it next year.

  • OilCanFan1

    I don’t know that freeing up the cap space this year really matters. I am not expecting them to make the playoffs this year based on the current roster. Try to get a better D in front of the goalies and they’ll get better and maybe so good as to be average. Next year a lot of money will be freed up with Purcell and Nikitin et al coming off the books. Next year would be when I’d expect some bigger names coming in especially if McDavid has a Calder season.

    • bradleypi

      Finally someone that’s using a little common sense. It’s apparent to me that oilersnation thinks the oil will be battling for 1st in the conference after they buy out half their defence (NN,JS, AF) and replace them with discards from other teams. (Seabrook, burns, hamilton) Lol! I too agree that Chiarelli will probably use this year to evaluate what he has. If the oil male the playoffs I’ll be pleasantly surprised. One more year of nikitin won’t bankrupt the franchise

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Keep him for now. It would be funny to ship NN down and have him picked up off the waiver wire.

    There should be enough wow factor with McD, Drai, Nurse & Klefbom to fill the seats for one more year at Rexall.

    Hockey is a young mans game and PC could look brilliant by getting some traction at the draft next week and letting the deals come to him.
    A good draft might get a bevy of ELCs playing in the new rink.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    The way MacTavish handled this Nikitin deal must’ve only confirmed to all other GM’s just how out of touch the Oiler management group was. It’s rather sad to think they went to work each day thinking they knew what they were doing.

    I’m sure it wasn’t Peters decision to keep Howson and MacTavish on after all the recent collateral damage they orchestrated.

  • @S_2_H

    Signing NN was a gamble. Sometimes gambles pay off. This one hasn’t. There are a few mistakes re: NN. One is the AAV. If it’s a 2 year/$4m contract, and he didn’t work out, then NN gets traded or put in the minors. No big deal. The second was managing expectations. He has not been a top-4 quality d-man as an Oiler. So MacT needed to quit saying he is. That just made things worse. The third is the sunk cost effect. NN was a gamble that did not pay off. So do you keep him and hope McLellan can work a miracle? Do you cut bait and buy him out? Do you retain 50% of his salary, and hope someone will trade the proverbial bag of pucks for him? Do you bury him in the minors?

    The good part of new management is that they can bring in outside opinions about what the best course of action is to do with NN. Explore all trade options, realizing that if anyone is going to take him, you may have to take an equally bad contract back. Throw him in the minors, even though that takes ice time away from developing players who have a possible future with the Oil. Buy him out, and lose money on the cap for two years.

    It’s not my money. Buy him out, but also make a rule that MacT must stay away from negotiations.

  • Darth Oiler

    If we stick him in the Minors we get a 900K savings on the cap if I remember right. I just think it would be nice to have the deck clean for 16-17 when we have to hopefully re-ink Talbot or Gibson (Please Please Please).

  • I’m not sure why buying out N.N. is even being talked about. Katz has oodles of $$$ and the Oil don’t need the cap space.
    Send him to the AHL, where he belongs…..but someone elses AHL team, not Bakersfield.

  • Strange Tamer

    He only has one more year, no need for a buyout as his cap hit would be on the books for next year too. If he comes to camp out of shape again just bury him in the minors.

    Only other option would be to trade him and retain half his salary, but that only works if he is healthy enough to play.