Edmonton - November 20, 2014 - So here we are. On the verge of the quarter pole mark of the 2013-14 National Hockey League season and the Edmonton Oilers find themselves in their usual spot at the bottom of the Western Conference standings.
Despite having shown signs of marginal improvement in certain aspects of their game, it has essentially made zero difference when it comes to the win column. The goaltending is not good enough, the blueline remains a mess and their centre depth is almost laughable. With that said, the player who has arguably been the biggest disappointment of all is defenceman Nikita Nikitin.
From the outset it looked as though the Oilers were doing nothing but grasping at straws in hoping the former Columbus Blue Jackets extra could somehow handle a top four role along what remains a paper-thin blueline but that is the road they decided to go down. We are now sixteen games into the experiment and it has been nothing but a complete and utter disaster.
While Nikitin continues to dress on a nightly basis, he has been Edmonton’s worst defenceman in most of those sixteen appearances. However, the fact he was a central figure in Craig MacTavish’s most recent attempt at “artificially” trying to improve his roster, has clearly played a major role in why he continues to see the ice as much as he does.
That and the fact Daryl Katz is paying the guy $4.5 million for the next two years and no team in their right mind would touch him with a hundred foot pole at that number. Anyone who had watched Nikitin play over the last couple years in Columbus knew exactly what the Oilers were getting and yet MacT seemed almost obsessed with bringing him on board.
While some have referred to the twenty-eight year old as a “solid” puck moving defenceman, he has shown to be nothing more than average at best during his brief stint in Orange and Blue. Add that to his continued struggles in his own end of the rink, an unwillingness to engage physically and some downright awful decision-making, both with and without the puck, and you have the mess we have seen with far to great a regularity...starting on opening night against the Calgary Flames.
Last night’s 5-4 loss to the Vancouver Canucks was no exception, as the big man was dreadful for much of the evening and yet played more minutes than anyone not named Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. According to his head coach, he is “battling a bit of a back issue” but for reasons that only those who are currently part of this coaching staff would know, Nitikin continues to see major minutes in all situations. Why you ask? That is a very good question but as I alluded to earlier, the reasons seem rather obvious.
Clearly he is not the type of player management hoped they were getting when they signed him this summer but putting your head in the ground and ignoring the reality of the situation is not going to change anything. Unfortunately, that is something this organization has come to specialize in for some time now…as has putting players in situations they have frankly no business being in.
How anyone within this management group could believe for a single second that a player who was no better than a No. 6 or No. 7 defenceman for the Blue Jackets in 2013-14, could somehow be counted on as a top four guy is absurd. Especially when you consider Scott Howson was the GM in Columbus and saw Nikitin fall from grace after putting together a fairly solid and productive campaign in 2011-12.
Much like them betting on one of Ben Scrivens or Victor Fasth proving to be capable of carrying the load as this teaming No. 1 goalie, believing Nikita Nikitin would be anything other than a bottom pairing depth rearguard was nothing more than a pipe dream. Again, there is something to be said for being realistic when it comes to expectations but when it comes to the Edmonton Oilers it almost feels as though they look at themselves as being bulletproof.
Was there a big issue with MacTavish taking a risk on the likes of Anton Belov and Denis Grebeshkov in 2013-14? Not particularly, as both were low risk moves from a financial standpoint. With that said, neither one fit the bill but instead of learning from their mistake and changing their plan of attack, Edmonton decided to continue down the same path…only this time there was plenty of risk involved.