Oilers Sign Nikitin, Media Decides Team is Years Away


In light of the signing of Nikita Nikitin, I have decided to put aside the Braydon Coburn trade speculation. Instead, find a comprehensive preview of the Oilers draft tomorrow night, including my take on further Flyer fluff.

Today, however, I am using this post to point out the overwrought conjecture of some of the reactions to the signing of former Blue Jacket, Nikita Nikitin. I wrote about Nikitin as a free agent target over a month ago. Here’s what I said:

The Oilers will make a strong pitch for this blue liner. Columbus may want him too, but the bridge contract they had him on was valued at only 2.15 million per season. Nikitin will be due for a raise and Edmonton may be the organization willing to make him rich. Mactavish may entice the burgeoning player with term too. There are no guarantees in free agency, but Columbus is not Los Angeles or New York, and they aren’t such a force in the league that players are lining up to sign in Ohio. The Oilers have a realistic chance to sign this player. Expect a salary offer in the range of 4.5 million a year for five years.

While I was wrong about term, I was bang on with the salary expectation. Why should the Oilers overpay a defenceman who is viewed as a third pairing blue liner by most in the league? Because THEY NEED EXPERIENCE. We’re all chomping at the bit to see Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom and Martin Marincin dominate the back end. However, no matter how talented these young men are, they don’t have the hockey sense that comes with games played.

Nikitin wasn’t ever meant to be the only addition to the blue line, or the knight in shining armour for the Oilers rebuild. He is an accomplished d-man going into his prime years, who makes the defensive core instantly better. Yet, earlier today, Jonathan Willis said the following:

If Nikitin is the big get, that must be the team’s plan. It’s a reasonable plan, and it might even be the best plan available, but it also means that we’re going to be talking about that wicked 2015 Draft by February…That’s getting old.

He later softened his stance when Scott Howson talked about the team’s desire to add another defender. Well, yeah, that’s a given. We haven’t even gotten to the draft yet, but bloggers and reporters are ready to start writing management off, saying the team is too far away.

The team is far away—today. But, by October? That all could change. Cap space can be a magical thing and the Oilers still have 20+ million of it to sign Petry and Schultz, and more free agents. We haven’t even crossed the Sam Gagner bridge, which could loosen up even more salary. Not to mention, the cap will rise next year as well.

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Jason Gregor, in his blog about the signing, said the following:

It means Craig MacTavish and the Oilers recognize they are a few years away from being a real contender. They will never admit that, nor should they, but a two year deal gives them a lot of flexibility for the future and it allows them to improve in the short term.

There’s some wisdom there, but how an overpay in free agency (gee, that NEVER happens) somehow equates being “years away” from being a contender is a stretch.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not calling out well known bloggers for doubting the acumen of a team that has been woefully run for so many years. Willis and Gregor are hockey machines (I would not consider myself as such, suffice it to say), and further perusal of their posts today reveal some of the more balanced takes they add to the doubt they have for any immediate success. But, often, fans can take away the negativity from blanket statements like the ones above.

“Nikitin isn’t good enough! He’s barely an improvement!”
” If this is it, let’s start talking Connor McDavid!”, and so on.

Ridiculous, if that’s how you feel. Most of the response today is guarded doubt, which I suppose is a feeling one ought to feel after a signing like that. However, the Oilers are bound to turn a corner. I for one will reserve my funeral dirge for later in the year, should the team falter. For now, this signing is step one in fortifying a poor defensive core. I applaud it and look forward to seeing what Nikitin can do.

The Oilers MAY be years away. Or, they could be awful close. Why don’t we wait and see what the summer holds before we write them off.