Everyone hoping that Nikita Nikitin would just quietly disappear to Russia will simply have to get used to disappointment. According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the 29-year-old defenceman will be staying in the Oilers’ system after all.
“There were rumours this week that Edmonton’s Nikita Nikitin may go back to Russia instead of playing in the American Hockey League,” said Friedman in Saturday’s “Headlines” segment of Hockey Night in Canada, “That’s not the case; he is staying.”
So is this good news or bad news? It really depends on how our readers feel about safeguarding every penny of Daryl Katz’s money possible.
Pros & Cons
If Peter Chiarelli can be taken at his word, one of the major benefits of this is that the Oilers will retain a legitimate NHL defenceman that they can recall at any point.
“He’ll go down and he’ll get his game back, he’ll play,” Chiarelli said regarding Nikitin on October 5, “He’s an NHL defenceman, notwithstanding what everyone’s views and perceptions are here. His game isn’t quite where it should be and he’ll get his chance in the minors.”
Depth is never a bad thing to have for an NHL team; Oilers fans will remember a few years back when people like Bryan Young and Sebastian Bisaillon were getting recalled because of injuries on the blue line. It’s not a terrible thing to have Nikitin has a reserve option, particularly if the assignment to the AHL serves as a kick in the pants.
The flip side of this is that when Nikitin plays down on the farm he’s going to take minutes away from a prospect, but even that’s not a big deal at the moment. Nick Pageau is currently playing a third-pair role for the Condors, and he’s a 27-year-old on an AHL-only deal who spent most of the last two years in the ECHL. Making him a healthy scratch really isn’t a big deal.
My understanding of the CBA – and, as always, I am really not a lawyer – is that there’s no salary cap benefit to sending Nikitin overseas. Article 11.19 of the CBA indicates that some salary commitments may be relieved by a loan to Europe, but the Oilers weren’t going to get a KHL team to take on $4.5 million in salary obligations and if they have to keep paying Nikitin it has to keep counting against the cap. Article 50.5 paragraph B(6) would also seem to suggest that the cap hit rules are the same for the KHL as the AHL (i.e. any salary exceeding the league minimum plus $375,000 counts against the cap).
Essentially, what this comes down to is that from a hockey perspective there doesn’t seem to be any benefit to allowing Nikitin to leave; it won’t clear cap space and it just subtracts a player who might at some point be able to help by providing depth. From a financial perspective, getting a European club to cover a portion of Nikitin’s salary would obviously have value, but it’s hard to imagine a team willing to cover enough of it that this would be a major incentive.