The #Oilers have placed defenceman Nikita Nikitin on waivers for the purpose of assignment.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) October 3, 2015
Edmonton has placed Nikita Nikitin on waivers, potentially ending this experiment the only way it was ever going to play out.
The Oilers put Nikita Nikitin on waivers in a last ditch effort to find any takers. If he clears (likely) then they can assign him to the Bakersfield Condors, where he will continue to make his $4.5 million but the club will lose $950,000 off of the Cap.
During camp, Nikitin’s play was generally terrible. His decision making and mobility have been an issue in every game he’s appeared in except one. From where I sit, it looked like the big Russian (who did have three assists in four preseason games, to his credit) was simply unable to skate at the level needed to be effective.
There are other options besides sending him down to the AHL. It is still possible for Chiarelli to find Nikitin a home on a different club, but that would surely require taking back a bad contract. Earlier in the week Mark Spector reported that the Blackhawks had tried to swap Nikitin for Bickell, as an example. That particular deal doesn’t make a lot of sense because of Bickell’s second remaining year on his contract, and because the Oilers have enough left wingers as it is. That said, there may still be a problem player the Oilers could take a flyer on for just this year.
Beyond that there’s an outside chance that Nikitin could leave the NHL altogether and be allowed to go home to Russia. However, loaning a player — as I understand it — does not forgive the salary cap hit, so the only way his $4.5 million comes off the books completely is if the player wants to terminate his contract. That’s a pipe-dream, as expecting anyone to give up on $4.5 million USD is an unlikely situation.
Nikitin’s time in Edmonton has been disastrous from a hockey and salary cap perspective. He only appeared in 42 games last season because of chronic back injuries, and when he did play it was difficult to predict which defender was going to show up. Nikitin’s play was Jekyl and Hyde all year long. He could help the team with his solid point shot and occasionally solid defensive play, then in the same shift he would hear dog whistles and be drawn into areas of the ice that just didn’t make sense for him to be in.
With the acquisition of the younger, more heralded and much more mobile Griffin Reinhart, the Oilers were in a position to make a tough decision on the back end. Because Ference has a NMC in his contract, if Reinhart was going to make the team then Nikitin was going to be the odd man out.
This decision speaks volumes about what this new management and coaching staff is willing to do to ice the best possible team. The Oilers are not going to suffer through Nikita Nikitin for another season just because they are paying for it.
Assuming he clears and is sent to the AHL, the Oilers will still have $3.55 million of his contract count against the cap. They could have bought him out twice this past summer but chose not to. The downside is that more of his bloated contract will count this year. The upside is that all of it will be gone when this season is over.