It Was Always Going To End This Way

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.

  • Craig1981

    I’m caught up with deciding who is more to blame.

    It wasn’t even like MacT was in a bidding war for him. He traded a 5th rounder and offered this crazy contract to him. Surly a 2 year 6 million July 1 offer would of been enough. ad it still would of been a crappy contract)

    Then again, Nikitin with no heart or passion, doesn’t give me the same feel of empathy as it does for Ference.

    • CMG30

      Yes, but they’re totally done with him at the end of this year. This positions the Oil to afford an actual defensive add next season. Buying him out likely would have cursed next season as well.

      • Petrolero

        I take your point but if they had bought Nikitin out they could have brought in defensive help THIS season, and with Purcell gone and Ference either traded at the deadline or bought out they still would have cap room to bring someone in NEXT year as well. I like new management, but they got this one wrong.

        • Chet.

          Bringing guys sounds amazing. Who ya got to bring in though? Nobody is giving up top 4 defensemen. It’s all well and good to have the money and cap space, but it doesn’t help you convince any other team to give up good defensemen.

        • CMG30

          I wish they could bring someone in right away as well. I hate the thoughts that this is essentially another ‘training’ season.

          But as I look at the situation, a buyout would have left something like half his salary on the books for the next two seasons. With the Oil’s cap position, that could be the difference between bringing in a 4+ million dollar D man who could be expected to play in the top 4 or another 5-8 range D man who we’ve got loads of already.

  • 5 Cups

    No sense looking behind us or looking to lay blame the positive is that the team gained almost a million in cap space and there is no more wondering if the player will work out he obviously didn’t. The new management is doing a good job of making smart decisions and moving on despite the cost. Katz unfortunately is the one who has to pay for this mistake financially and MacT ultimately lost his job over this player and the Eakins hire.

  • Petrolero

    The beauty of this decision is that we are, at long last, beginning to address the “NSF” issue with the Oilers.

    With the “N” (Nikitin) looked after and the “S” (Schultz) starting to play more like an NHL D Man, maybe the management boys can deal with the “F” (Ference) component.

    By eye Ference is the worst of the three from a performance standpoint. How this last component is addressed may be key to the Oilers season.

  • Makaveli

    That’s what happens when you don’t put in the effort in the off season to get better. And you finally have an organization that will put team success ahead of contracts. It’s about time.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    This is the totally right move for the Oilers… to remove Nikitin… aside from a buyout (which almost everyone wanted.

    It seems that J. Schultz got his act together and improvably so for the new season… and but Nikitin did not even seemingly try.

    He was slow, not much defensively good, and had a horrible albatross of a contract. Yeah the Oil have to pay him still, if he clears but so what, another player will be doing his best under McClellan to stick with the team.

    MacT and Howson are the big adjoined to the hip goats (or jackasses) with Nikitin and the contract mess… thank goodness it is done by end of the season. For two guys in management and NHL experience, how they decided on this being good for the Oilers at the time of signing him … makes absolutely no sense at all.

    Well this does reduce the current defence issues by one with Ference being next I would think. Kudos to Chiarelli and McClellan wanting nothing to do with Nikitin the way he is and has played this TC.

    Hope also that the Oilers play much better than last game so to get ready for the start of the season come the 8th. Go Oilers!!!!

  • Petrolero

    My bet is that injuries have consistently hampered performance, and this explains his drift down the CBJ lineup and why Howson though he was getting some sort of player he had to compete for in FA.

    The Oilers deliberately played the Schultz signing to open up a second arbitration window. LT has speculated that was was done to effect a buy-out, but that injury issues from the end of last season precluded that option. I suspect that is right.

    I now wonder whether there are one or more conditions that have become chronic and are no longer eligible for IR, but leave Nikitin a shell of the player Howson thought he was trading/bargaining for. Sort of like Ryan Whitney.

    What would be back to back burns on the same issue make me think the scenario is that much more likely.

    Is it bad medicinal staff? Bad use of medical staff?

  • CMG30

    Easy to say in hindsight but the consensus at the time was that while it was an overpay, the Oilers needed more experience on the blueline.

    For example:

    Jason Gregor, TSN 1260: #Oilers aren’t in cap crunch. Stop gap contract for Nikitin at $4.5 for two years doesn’t hurt. They need some experience on blueline.

  • a lg dubl dubl

    And for example:

    Nikita Nikitin, Columbus Blue Jackets. The 27-year-old Russian seems to be on the outs in Columbus, despite averaging 21:11 per game just last season. At 6’4”, 223 pounds he’d add size as well as ability to the Oilers’ blue line and as a pending free agent ($2.15 million cap hit) probably wouldn’t cost all that much. The downside is that he’s in much the same boat as Smid was; he’s a top-four defenceman but probably not worlds better than the group currently on the team.

    • You make a valid point about hindsight in the media, but in Willis’ defense, he pretty clearly points out 2 things:

      1. Nikitin probably isn’t an upgrade on anything they had at the time

      2. There’s an assumption he would be cheap, and perhaps cheaper than his existing $2.15m cap hit

      I didn’t hate the trade for him, but never liked the money. I can’t believe we more than doubled this guy’s salary.

      • camdog

        The story by JW was also written in November (2013) of NN’s final year in Columbus. The 2-3 seasons he had before that were pretty good. I wasn’t in favour of the signing, because he really had an awful year that last year in Columbus. I didn’t think he was any different than Belov. When a veteran d-man is a number 7 d-man on another team I don’t really expect them to come to Edmonton and have success.

  • Oiler Fan 16

    I think we can safely say that any professional scouting that has happened prior to Chia’s arrival was completely wrong.

    Time to let the young vets take over.

  • 5 Cups

    A Nikitin buyout would last another year after this one and that would be dead money for two years. You just bite the bullet send him to Bakersfield and by the end of the season he could be playing Tier 4 Rec League hockey in Saskatchewan. Brutal signing by the Oilers. Howson should be hung by his toenails.

  • JackB

    Our defence depth chart in Bakersfield is:

    Nurse / Davidson (if sent down); Simpson / Osterle; Musil / Laleggia; (with Hunt or Betker being the 7th D)

    Plus we have Nick Pageau (vetern AH’er) and Gernat

    THERE IS NO ROOM FOR HIM THERE . . . (and I surely don’t relish his “veteran work ethic” being any kind of influence on our young prospects there !!)

    I fully expect that Nikitin will end up in the ECHL. And maybe (we can hope) that that kind of embarrassing demotion might prompt him to ask to be loaned to some KHL team ?????

    I think if we “loaned” him to a KHL team, we might not get the $950,000 cap relief? and maybe have to have his full $4.5 on our cap for this year?

    But I just want him to disappear . . . and not be a bad influence on our developing prospects.