Irresponsible Rumormongering

Trade target: Dmitry Kulikov

Kulikov was the 14th pick in the 2009 draft

When Sabres GM Tim Murray acquired Dmitry Kulikov from the Panthers at the draft last June, he was not shy about sharing his lofty expectations for his newest player.

It hasn’t quite worked out. Kulikov has played in just 31 games this year, missing time with a lower-back injury suffered in the first preseason game that has also caused running pain down his legs for much of the season.

Kulikov has logged just two points and now seems like an afterthought in Buffalo’s future plans rather than a building block. Indeed, there have been growing rumblings that Kulikov could be on the block as we approach the trade deadline.

Like Michael Stone, Kulikov is a bit more intriguing than some of the other journeyman rentals New York might be eyeing. Kulikov is a free agent this summer, but at just 26, he’s someone the Blueshirts might hope to re-sign. He has a lot of appealing attributes as a big man that can skate, a heavy hitter that’s very willing to sacrifice his body and a lefty that has the ability to play both sides.

For some more background on Kulikov, I sent a few questions to JC Smith of Litter Box Cats, who knows Kulikov very well from his years with the Panthers:

Q: Injuries have really hindered Kulikov in Buffalo and he’s had a tough time carving out a role. Where did he leave off in Florida before the trade?

A: Where Kulikov was at the end of last season makes his injuries this season an even bigger downer. For so many years, Panther fans had been waiting for Kulikov to emerge as a big-time player. I had often referred to Kuli as a “bonehead” because he made so many terrible decisions at key moments that cost the team. And yet, down the stretch last season and into the playoff series with the Islanders, he really settled down.

Kulikov averaged 25:09 during the series and had four points in six games (one goal, three assists). Take note that he only averaged 21 minutes per night during the regular season. I did not think there was any way the rumors of a trade involving Kulikov could have been true, as Gerard Gallant and his coaching staff were showing more and more confidence in Kulikov, and Kulikov was repaying the coaches with solid play with a variety of partners. If anything, the Panthers likely traded him at the second-highest point of his value (his first several seasons were likely the high point).

Q: Kulikov posted a ton of points in junior and started off his career as a regular offensive contributor, but that seems that has fallen off. What’s your take on that?

A: That remains the most difficult question to answer. I had hoped to see if there was more to that part of his game in a different system, though its hard to say Buffalo allows him to showcase much more than the Panthers had. A few things that may have had a negative impact on Kuli’s offensive output were: terrible Panther teams with lineups that were as bad as anything the NHL has ever seen (Kamil Kreps, anyone?); different coaches with different systems throughout his career; only two seasons where he saw solid offensive zone start rates; and finally, usage. That last one is something to key on. Kulikov’s Corsi and Fenwick numbers were not the best for the Panthers in 2015-16, but he was also being used more in the defensive zone, often with rookie Alex Petrovic as a partner. Remember that last season the Panthers were giving all of their offensive opportunities on the back-end to the tandem of Brian Campbell and Aaron Ekblad, meaning Kuli and company were tasked more with difficult defensive match-ups. Kulikov also saw very little power play usage last season – though he did manage six power play assists.

Q: What are Kulikov’s strengths and weaknesses? How would you describe his career arc right now?

A: Kuli has revealed his talents. He is a strong, big, mobile defenseman best geared for a speedy defensive game. He does not wait to attack and has a penchant for trying to separate players from the puck at the blueline, which will occasionally lead to a classic meltdown. But Kulikov is excellent at forcing entries wide and sticking with offensive players into the corners. He is strong enough to play well in front of his own net. At times he pursues too much and can get out of position, but he slowed that trend down the stretch last season. He should provide very solid defense, even against the game’s faster players. He is an excellent puck carrier that has no trouble fighting through checks, uses his size well, and has solid speed. But his vision with the puck has never been great. Kulikov’s shot is very hard but exceptionally inaccurate and he has shown an inability to run a power play.

I have made some comments this season that the Panthers made a mistake getting rid of both Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson. While I liked Gudbranson a great deal, I have stated on multiple occasions that I think Kulikov may have been the bigger loss. His size and skating ability let Kuli play against big, fast teams and crush them off cycle-play, and the Panthers do not have that ability now (notice the Kings wrecked the Cats around their own net, while the Panthers had little trouble with a smaller Nashville team). I wish the injuries had not curtailed Kuli, because I really think he had figured this game out, and where his place in it is. If his injuries are not of the bothersome long-term variety, I think his arc is stronger than ever. He has all the ability and brains to play a second- or third-pair role very well.

Andy Boron of Die By the Blade also chimed in from the Sabres POV:

“I hate to say it, but Kulikov has been a pretty big disappointment..Of course, like many Sabres players, the big question is: Did Kulikov’s game take a step back, or is his lack of production the result of playing for one of the NHL’s worst teams?

“I think Kulikov has the talent to contribute to a playoff team as a back-end defenseman. He’s a decent skater, he’s physical, has a good outlet pass, and can contribute a bit on your power play, though he’s not a PP specialist. The biggest problem with his time in Buffalo, injuries aside, is that he just hasn’t produced offensively at all. For a guy who’s making $4.5 million this year, one goal and one assist through 31 games just isn’t gonna cut it. He also finds himself out of position from time to time thanks to going for that big hit or making the wrong decision in his own zone. I think the Sabres would be smart to trade Kuli, because I doubt they want him back next year at that cap number after what he’s done here. I think a fresh start could do him good, but that tailbone injury remains a concern for any team willing to roll the dice.”

Big thanks to JC for the help with this post – be sure to check out his site and Andy’s, too!

Other potential trade targets: Michael StoneRyan Murphy, Cody FransonJosh Manson, Dennis Wideman

Show More
  • the rangers could use a stay at home defensemen and when you get a fresh start it helps so let’s see what happens march 1

  • I got only one question, why?

    He’s left handed, he’s way overrated, he’d likely be expensive both to acquire (doubt he’s cheaper then a 2nd) and re-sign ($4m+?).

    He doesn’t score points, he doesn’t drive offense at all, his (only?) redeeming qualities is that he’s a pretty good shot suppressor and a good skater.

    Much like Stone i think this is an awful trade target and i really hop Gorton agrees with me.

    • Addition here, is Kulikov better then Brendan Smith at anything? They’re similar in style and Smith is imo both better and cheaper.

      • He’s a lefty that plays both sides, so that mitigates that concern somewhat. Overrated? Perhaps, but as Amy noted – this is a fresh-start candidate. Salary will be interesting, but first he has to perform before you ever consider re-signing, and either way, his value has taken a hit.

        Offense has been a part of his game in the past and given his attributes as a good skater and decent distributor, wonder if that could return in a different environment.

        By contrast, Smith has never shown anything offensively in the NHL and only plays the left side. Think their price tags on both the UFA market and at the deadline will be similar

        • Offense is not a part of his game, he might put up some points when getting PP-time but he’s an awful shot attempt driver, like really bad.

          Smith plays both sides, he’s actually more comfortable on the right. Smith also drives offense much better then Kulikov, add that he’s also a much better shot suppressor and you have a better player imo. I think Smith will be MUCH cheaper both to acquire and extend.

          • If you’ll note JC’s comments and the data to back, his usage changed dramatically as Florida’s defense transformed in recent years. Offense was there in his younger days both junior and NHL.

            Both our trusty viewers insisted he’s not good on the PP.

  • Reading the post, it appears that this guy isn’t what we are looking for. The man has a history of back problems, comes with a large cap hit, not much of an accurate shot, what more do we need to know????????

    Now having said that, if we get him for a 7th round pick, I’d take a shot for only one reason, he would be an improvement over Girardi !!!!!!!

    • Wouldn’t say a history so much as a tough season. Cap hit goes away this summer. Inaccurate shot is pretty far down my list of concerns. Think he has quite a few appealing attributes, actually.

    • I totally agree. The back problems scare me the most. We’ve seen athletes who were good go down hill quickly with bad backs. I’ve had one most of my life and know at any time you can be done. If they’re talking about a rental, I don’t see him making a difference this year since we need much more help on the back end. Unless we get a difference maker I think we just wait till summer. I saw him up close this last game in buffalo and the only thing I noticed was he cross checked Z up high and nobody saw it but it was dirty for sure

      • So back problem that has led to sciatica(which ended JD’s career)which would rob him of leg strength.

        Not only no, but no effing way.

  • I didn’t like this trade when the Sabres made it to begin with. I would have kept Pysyk (spelling?) instead. I thought the Sabres got fleeced then and now with the injuries to Kulikov it makes it a disaster.

  • Erik Gudbranson is also is in play, currently recovering from a hand injury. Like many hockey players, he didn’t work out in Vancouver. He is a right hand shot and like Kulikov is a skilled player who plays with a edge. Either defenceman would be an upgrade on the Ranger blueline.

    The Canucks have a ton of capspace. I would like to see New York offer up Rick Nash to the Canucks for Jannik Hansen and the gifted 25 year old Erik Gudbranson.

    • Please no, Gudbranson is everything we don’t need, he’s pretty much a young Dan Girardi. He generates no offense and his shot suppression is awful, he’s also slow and can’t move the puck at all.

      • Given this, fact EG is on IR and not even practicing yet, an RFA which really makes things more complicated than a rental, etc… not happening

    • Bloomer why would you knock the Trouba idea and then suggest Gudbranson? He’s a stiff. He can’t skate which is why FL gave up on him.

  • Something to take away from both opinions:

    JC Smith of Litter Box Cats, “I had often referred to Kuli as a ‘bonehead’ because he made so many terrible decisions at key moments that cost the team.”

    Andy Boron of Die By The Blade, “He also finds himself out of position from time to time thanks to going for that big hit or making the wrong decision in his own zone.”

    Girardi, Klein, and Staal all have their (frustrating) limitations, but they aren’t “boneheads”. Reading the opinions makes me think he’s the proverbial million dollar talent with a 10 cent head. If so, he won’t see the ice often here.

    • I feel like all the things said about him would have made me scrap this article. Doesn’t sound like a viable option at all.

  • Why would the Rangers trade for a guy who is fighting through injury with shooting pains down his leg? JC Smith of Litter Box Cats is a perceptive dude & he’s right about the Panthers D being easily muscled off the puck in their own zone, which is right on the money. The Panthers have one of the most vanilla D in the NHL. And the Rangers aren’t far behind.

  • I’d stay away. I traded for him on NHL 16, and he was an absolute tire fire in his own zone, and although he was supposed to be an offensive defenseman, he couldn’t contribute at all. Dumped him to Minnesota after only season for Haula, who was also a nightmare.

  • Cant wait for trade deadline to pass!!!!!! Tired of daily speculation concerning the positives and negatives of every defenseman in the league!!!!
    Whats going on with the current rangers players??? Whats going on with our current prospects including wolfpack, college and juniors????

  • Why don’t the Rangers see if the kings want to trade Doughty for Lindberg. They may have to throw in a 7th round pick though so maybe it’s not a good trade after all. We don’t wanna lose that 7th round pick. Theee could be another Lundqvist waiting there

  • Back to top button