With the trade deadline quickly approaching, we will be profiling several players in the weeks ahead that are likely to be dealt by March 1st.
Back at the draft, the Sabres added Dmitry Kulikov in the hopes that he could stabilize their back end as they looked to take a step forward towards making a push for a playoff spot. Unfortunately for them, he has been hurt for nearly half the season and has struggled at times when he is in the lineup which makes him a candidate to be dealt by March 1st.
Final year of a three year, $13MM deal ($4.33MM cap hit, $4.5MM salary) – Will be a UFA in July.
The word disastrous comes to mind from a couple of perspectives. Kulikov certainly hasn’t played to the level that Buffalo was expecting when they added him. He twice has missed time with back problems and will be sitting out a lot of game day skates the rest of the season as he’s still not 100%.
From his personal perspective, a big season with the Sabres would have set him up for a nice pay day in what is shaping up to be a weak free agent market. Having these questions about his health moving forward certainly won’t help his case, nor will the fact that his production has effectively dried up.
When healthy, Kulikov has been able to log major minutes (he’s averaging a career high in average ice time) which should be an encouraging sign for anyone looking to add him either by the deadline or in free agency but there haven’t been many positives beyond that so far.
28 GP, 1 goal, 1 assist, 2 points, -9 rating, 20 PIMS, 29 shots, 22:49 ATOI, 46.3 CF%
The big question here will be his health. If a team believes that Kulikov will be able to play the rest of the way without too many issues, he’ll likely be fairly high on their wish list. If not, the market may not be as robust as Buffalo may be hoping for.
Assuming teams view him as a healthy player moving forward, Montreal may be a team to watch for in the East. They could use a more suitable playing partner for Shea Weber on their top pairing and Kulikov’s skill set would complement Weber’s fairly well. While they don’t quite have enough cap space to acquire him without offsetting any money, the difference likely wouldn’t be too difficult to overcome. If Tampa Bay were to get back into the race over the next few weeks, Kulikov is the type of top four addition they’ve been looking to make all season although it only makes sense if they’re pushing for a playoff spot. I’d also pencil in the Rangers as a team that could have a bit of interest while the Maple Leafs may have some interest if they decide to try to add some short-term help by the deadline as well.
Out West, the Oilers could stand to add to their back end and he would fit in as someone that could bolster their third pairing but be more than capable of moving up if more injuries were to arise out there. They also have the financial flexibility to add him in. Los Angeles has been quietly freeing up some money to work with at the deadline as well and a player like Kulikov would slot in quite nicely on their second pairing.
Likelihood Of A Trade
Unless Buffalo goes on a big run in the coming weeks and plays themselves right into the thick of the postseason chase, the odds of him moving should be pretty high. An extension at this point seems highly unlikely given the down season Kulikov has had so flipping him by the deadline would make a lot of sense for Sabres GM Tim Murray.