When Dmitry Kulikov was listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury last week, it seemed completely innocuous. Now, it appears to be anything but and potentially season-altering for the Winnipeg Jets. Sportsnet’s Sean Reynolds reports that Kulikov is undergoing back surgery and will be out about eight weeks. For perspective, that would be a return around May 12th, most likely the conference finals round. This is likely season-ending surgery for Kulikov and Winnipeg hopes it won’t contribute to a premature end to their 2017-18 run as well.
For those trying to think of when Kulikov could have suffered such a major injury, you would have to go all the way back to the 2016-17 preseason. Then a newly-acquired Buffalo Sabre, Kulikov suffered a back injury before the season even began and dealt with repercussions all year. Kulikov missed 35 games due to injury last year, at least 22 of which were officially credited to his back, and landed on injured reserve twice. Now, Reynolds adds, the lingering issue has returned to plague him again. In his first season of a three-year deal with the Jets, one has to wonder what the future looks like for Kulikov as this back problem continues to stick around.
Until this point, Kulikov has been relatively healthy for Winnipeg, skating in 62 games thus far. Kulikov has fit in nicely for the Jets, far exceeding his performance in Buffalo last season. His numbers may not jump off the page, offensively or defensively, but as a third-pair pair blue liner he has done everything asked of him, including playing a solid game in his own zone and possessing the puck safely. While his absence may not hurt as much as the loss of a Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien, or Tyler Myers would for the rest of the year, it will certainly be felt. Especially with Toby Enstrom already on the shelf as well, the Jets are hurting for the strong defensive depth they began the year with. More pressure will certainly fall on the likes of Tucker Poolman and Joe Morrow for the remainder of the year, as Winnipeg looks to keep injuries from slowing down an incredible campaign.