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
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
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.
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.
— Derek Van Diest (@SUNdvandiest) March 11, 2015
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.
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.
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.
— 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.