Bossa Antigua: MacTavish Should Liberate Kulikov from Floridian Frustration

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2uFZoFmggLE&w=420&h=315]

Yesterday, I looked at some of the UFA defensemen available this off-season. Today, I want to look at one young RFA defensemen who is ostensibly in rough water with his team but is performing well and might make a good fit for the Oilers.


(Source: Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

At his end of the year presser, Panthers’ GM Dale Tallon said this about Kulikov:

[Question ON KULIKOV?]

Again, inconsistent, everyone’s got to get better. All of us, from me down. We all got to do a better job be more consistent in what we do.

That’s what I expect from him to be more consistent, play to his capabilities. We do it some nights we have it, some periods we have but we don’t have it enough on a consistent basis.

Good teams are proactive not reactive that’s the mindset you got to develop.  Got to bring in people that keep motivating that keep giving you the tools to be successful. Try different things, bring in different motivational people to help them find the way, especially these young guys. That’s what we’re going to do, we’re committed to do all of that, thinking outside the box being creative with that. And drafting and developing people that have that originally. Barkov has it, Bjugstad has it, Huberdeau has it, he wants to win. He cares. It’s a matter of starting with the draft, making sure you draft the right people and trade for people who have that and then you sign free agents who have that.

[Question on MONEY?]

Now I can make happy trades, I’m excited about our future and being able to mix it up with the big boys.

That sure sounds like Kulikov is in trouble in Florida. When you are referred to as “inconsistent” that’s one thing. I mean, who isn’t?

When the GM calls you inconsistent and then starts talking about all the other young players on the team he loves and waxes poetic about their work ethic etc., you’ve got problems.

When the GM is flush with cash and excited to make “happy trades” you have to wonder if a trade that will make him happy is one that ships a perceived problem out of town?

This is hardly a new sentiment either. Earlier in the year, the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch reported a few times that Kulikov was available and excluded from the untouchable list of Tallon’s favorites. Here he is October 19th, reporting:

Forwards Tomas Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg, Scottie Upshall, Shawn Matthias, Brad Boyes and Marcel Goc are among those available along with Tom Gilbert and Dmitry Kulikov, just to name a few…

The only thing GM Dale Tallon doesn’t want to do is trade any of the club’s good young prospects.

That means young players Jonathan Huberdeau, Jacob Markstrom, Erik Gudbranson and Aleksander Barkov won’t be going anywhere. The issue for Tallon is they don’t have a lot of players other teams covent, but somebody may make a pitch for goalie Thomas at the deadline.

(we’ve already seen Markstrom crossed off that list)

Here he is Nov. 23rd:

RUMOURS DU JOUR: Three teams say there is a lot of chatter and most of it is coming from the Sunshine State. After sending Versteeg back to the Hawks, Florida GM Dale Tallon isn’t done. He’d like to move RW Scottie Upshall, LW Tomas Fleischman, RW Brad Boyes, RW Tomas Kopecky, C Marcel Goc and C Shawn Matthias before the deadline. There is a market for D Dmitry Kulikov with lots of teams interest, but he may bolt for the KHL. Upshall and Fleischmann are immoveable because of their contracts but Tallon may find someone to take Goc, Kulikov and Matthias off their hands before the deadline. The Panthers wanted to move Versteeg so badly they picked up $6 million in salary and I’m told by a NHL executive Tallon is “open for business. He’s even willing to take on cash.” …

And, here’s George Richards of the Miami Herald in late February reporting:

Of Florida’s biggest ‘available’ pieces, Tallon he had interest in keeping all of them. Goalie Tim Thomas, winger Brad Boyes and defenseman Tom Gilbert all came to Florida during training camp on try-outs and signed one-year contracts.

Tallon said all three deserve to stick around if they so wish.

“Performance is important and desire [to stay] is as well,” Tallon said, adding that Thomas — perhaps Florida’s biggest trade chip since Jay Bouwmeester — has expressed an interest to return next year.

“Those guys have had good years and deserve the chance to stay. … I’m happy with the way they’ve played, happy with their professionalism.”

Other free agents the Panthers could offer other teams include center Marcel Goc, defenseman Mike Weaver and restricted free agent Dmitry Kulikov.

A couple of themes throughout the year come through: 1) Tallon is pissed about the state of his club; 2) he puts a high value on the character of his group insofar as he perceives it; 3) he’s got a long list of names he’s made available for the market and that list includes Dmitry Kulikov; 4) he’s got a short list of untouchable youth and Kulikov isn’t on that list.

Moreover, Kulikov was scratched once this season in a “send a message” kind of way. This was the only game he missed this season.

So… let’s have a look at him!

Dmitry Kulikov (Drafted: 14th OV, 2009, the Magnus Draft)

Age: 23; boxcars: 81 8-11-19 (2-3-5 on the PP); caphit: 2.25M (expires this year as an RFA)

CorisOn: 3.0 (3rd on team >50gps); CorsiRel: 2.2 (3rd)

TOI/60 5×5: 16.90 (3rd); TOI/SH/G: 1:48 (4th); PP: 2:23 (2nd)

Well, he’s young (23). He’s still under the control of which ever team attains his rights to a large degree (i.e., he’s an RFA). He doesn’t score a ton at evens or on the powerplay. He’s being used in all 3 disciplines (Evens; PK; PP), which suggests he might be able to fill into an all-round defender. He’s playing the 3rd most even-strength minutes, suggesting he’s relied upon as a 2nd pairing defender.

The Corsi numbers tell us when he’s on the ice, the puck is going the right way and relative to his teammates on the blue line he’s fairing very well against the big guns (Campbell and Gilbert).

Here’s his player usage chart (via extraskater.com): 

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 6.03.20 PM

The usage chart has him just inside the “shut down” quadrant of the chart. That is, he’s starting in the hard end (his own) more often than not and he’s facing tough competition (not the hardest zone starts or competition on the team mind you). The fact that he’s clear of even in shot differential given his usage is a good sign.

Here’s his year-over-year fancy stats (via behindthenet.ca):

 Screen Shot 2014-04-20 at 10.08.43 PM

The year-over-year fancy stats suggest he’s a young player that’s had some ups and downs. For the most part, however, this is a nice report card. Two straight years in the corsi black are a good sign for such a young player.

Here’s his WOWY (with and without you) stats for everyone he played >100mins 5×5 (via stats.hockeyanalysis.com):

Screen Shot 2014-04-20 at 10.08.25 PM

The WOWY chart shows he spent most of the year with Mike Weaver (before he got traded at the deadline to the Canadiens). Weaver has been a possession black hole for nearly his entire career and it shows in the WOWY. With Weaver (c. 607 5×5 minutes) the pair enjoyed 52.2% of the corsi events 5×5. Kulikov without Weaver drops to 50.2%, but Weaver without Kulikov drops to 45.2%. This suggests that the youngster was the one driving the bus and the veteran was the boat anchor.

Final Assessment

Kulikov is exactly the kind of player in exactly the kind of situation that MacTavish should be looking for. He’s young. He’s got years of experience already, which suggest he’s effective and he’s still got room to hit his peak in his late 20s. He’s on the outs with his current GM for what appears to be “intangible” reasons of character. While, character can certainly be an issue and one that we shouldn’t shun, I have a couple of thoughts about this.

1) Russians, in particular, get mis-read and mis-understood in the North American market. Casting character aspersions against Russian players is the norm. And, character assessments in general tend to be heavily bias-prone and take into consideration largely irrelevant matters like “body language.”

2) Character assessments open up market inefficiencies as hockey decision makers routinely overvalue guys that are “good in the room” and undervalue guys that are perceived as “a bad fit for our group.” Where these inefficiencies are exposed, a wily GM would be wise to exploit them.

There are, of course, a few cons. Garrioch mentions Kulikov may bolt for the KHL. The sketchy part of the hockey internet world is fairly convinced Kulikov may be KHL bound. But, in his own words in February, here’s what Kulikov had to say:

Those rumors about him wanting to go back to play in his native Russia? Kulikov says not only are they not true, but he has no idea where they started.

“I would like to face those people saying those things and ask them where they are getting their information,” said Kulikov, who returned to Russia to play for the KHL’s Yaroslavl Locomotiv during the lockout of 2012-13.

“Wanting to go back to Russia? Those words have never come out of my mouth. I think the people starting that are just trying to create more drama for the league or whatever. .-.-. I want to help turn things around here. I want to win here. The year we made the playoffs was like the best thing ever. It’s a totally different feeling. I want to feel that again.”

 For what it’s worth, I think the risk is minimal.

Another downside is simply that Kulikov is a left-shot. With Marincin, Klefbom, Nurse, Gernat, Simpson et. al. being left-shots, it would be nice to find a right-shot defensemen. That said, Kulikov has proven NHL worthy at a tender age and would be valuable to the Oilers if only to keep Klefbom and Nurse where they belong, developing in the minors.

I don’t know what an expiring RFA defensemen who’s publicly fallen out of favor with his GM costs (this year we’ve seen some cheap transactions in the name of Tallon’s frustration with his group). But, I sure think MacTavish should find out. And, barring absurdities, I think he should pay the man.

Addendum: after this piece was posted I came across a rumor that Kulikov turned down an offer of 5M x 4 years from Tallon in March:

Set to become a RFA with the threat of the KHL looming, the Panthers are trying to re-sign defenceman Dmitry Kulikov. The talk is GM Dale Tallon has put a four-year, $20-million deal on the table but Kulikov’s camp wants $22 million over four years. If he gets that kind of money, Florida’s talks with UFA Tom Gilbert and RFA D Erik Gudbranson should be interesting. Tallon told an Ottawa radio station last week that Gudbranson is a “future captain” and “isn’t going anywhere.” The Panthers have an odd way of treating a guy they consider a franchise player …

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