86 Days Until The Season Begins

Zach Laing
9 months ago
Throughout the summer and into the fall, we’ll be counting down the days until the Edmonton Oilers begin their 2023-24 season with a daily trip down memory lane.
There are 86 days to go, so let’s continue the countdown with Nikita Nikitin — one of two Oilers players to wear the number.

A June 26, 2014 article from the Edmonton Journal highlights the Edmonton Oilers’ signing of defenceman Nikita Nikitin.


The mid-2010s were a trying time for Oilers fans.
They were now well removed from the 2006 run to the Stanley Cup Finals, and by the time Nikita Nikitin joined the team ahead of the 2014-15 season, fans saw the team secure three first-overall draft picks taking Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov.
A consistent area of issue for the team was their ability to defend, and heading into that 2014 free-agent class, the Oilers had their eyes on the pending unrestricted free agent. They liked him so much they traded what would become a fifth-round pick in that year’s draft to the Columbus Blue Jackets for a chance to negotiate. The two sides agreed on a two-year deal paying him $4.5-million per year.
The Oilers viewed Nikitin as someone who could help the settle the team down in their own zone.
“(Nikitin’s) role had been reduced in Columbus, so this will give him a chance to get back into a top-four role again, back into that 20-22 minute range, then we’ll see where he goes from there,” then Oilers senior vice-president of hockey operations Scott Howson told the Edmonton Journal. “He’s got good size, he moves the puck very well… he’s got a great one-timer, so I see him playing a little bit on the power play.
“Now that we have Nikitin, we have a little more comfort with our defence. We’d like to add one more if we could.”
The Oilers would do just that by signing defenceman Mark Fayne to a four-year deal paying him $3.625-million per year, while also adding Keith Aulie on a one-year, $800,000 deal.
The Nikitin era in Edmonton was not fondly remembered, and in no sense of the term were there any of the comforts the Oilers had hoped for. In fact, Nikitin showed up out of shape to his first training camp with the team and it was only a sign of what was to come for him as his year was cut shortwith him appearing in just 42 games by season’s end.
That’s in thanks to a shoulder injury suffered in late January that forced him out of the lineup until mid-March. By the end of the year, he scored just four goals and 10 points and with him on the ice at 5×5, the Oilers were outscored 17-31. Back and ankle issues didn’t help, either.

An Edmonton Journal article from Oct. 5, 2015, details Edmonton Oilers defenceman Nikita Nikitin being assigned to the AHL.

Come training camp in the 2015-16 season, Nikitin struggled out of the gate and couldn’t even make the team out of training camp despite arriving looking “trimmer” and determined to prove his previous year was just a one-off. Days before the season kicked off, he was placed on waivers and was sent down to the American Hockey League’s Bakersfield Condors.
He would take the assignment in stride heading down to sunny southern California, and scored one goal and 14 points in 30 games, despite a -9 rating.
But come December, Nikitin and Mark Fayne — who was signed to a big ticket deal the same summer —swapped places. Nikitin would return to Edmonton, while Fayne would be sent packing. The return would see him play just seven games, however, after the Christmas break, he would find himself back in the America League.
He got a brief reprieve in March for another few games, but it was crystal clear that then GM Craig MacTavish’s swing in signing this deal was nothing short of a monumental mistake.
The end of the 2015-16 wouldn’t mark only the end of his contract with the Oilers, it would mark the end of his tenure in North America. Nikitin would return to Russia signing with Avangard Omsk of the KHL with whom he would play one year, before playing out the final two seasons of his playing career with Traktor Chelyabinsk.
The Nikitin Era would undoubtedly be a black mark amid the decade of darkness and a prime example of the Oilers trying to do too much. At the time of the deal, there was nobody knocking on the door to sign Nikitin, let alone to a deal paying him $4.5-million a year — one that took up a similar amount of cap space then as Mattias Ekholm’s contract does today.
Why the Oilers felt it necessary to jump the queue sacrificing an asset — fifth-round pick or not — signified just how lost the organization was at the time.

How many days are left until the Edmonton Oilers start the 2023-24 season? 86!

Can you guess who will be featured in tomorrow’s countdown?

Previous days

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at zach@oilersnation.com.

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