a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Monday, 11 March 2013

03/11/13 Trade Targets: The Case For Kulikov

The recent scoring touch of Oilers defenseman Ryan Whitney may have helped his value heading into the NHL trade deadline, but it doesn't mean that Edmonton once again has a quality puck mover on the left side of the defense. Enter Dmitry Kulikov.

I've hinted before that the Oilers should seriously consider looking at Kulikov, and nothing has changed to make him seem a less attractive target. Actually, some things have caused him to make more sense.

Let's start with the Oilers' side of things.

The addition of Justin Schultz and the apparent faith the organization has shown in Jeff Petry means that the top two right-handed rearguards are set for the foreseeable future. Kulikov is a left-handed shooter who is known for his offensive instincts and significant talents in his own end of the ice, which would make for a mighty fine Whitney replacement in a top pairing role.

Kulikov is killing it in the possession battle so far this season, despite the fact that he's finishing in the offensive zone 54.9% of the time after starting there 58.9% of the time at even strength. He's also facing the fourth-toughest competition of Panthers defenders, which is another feather in his cap. He has yet to score a goal in 20 games this season, but his point-per-game totals climbed in each of his first three NHL seasons and he's coming off a 2011-12 season of 4-24-28 in 58 games.

His 2013 ice time per game breaks down this way:

Even strength: 17:44
Powerplay: 2:59
Penalty Kill: 1:01

Total: 21:44

In other words, he's a player who can be useful in all three disciplines and eat up a significant chunk of minutes at just 22 years old. He's currently in the first year of a two year bridge contract with a $2.5 million cap hit and $3 million salary for next season. $3 million is a reasonable starting point for a new deal.

So why would the Panthers trade him?

Bruce Garrioch wrote an interesting collection of league rumors with the headline "Florida Panthers Ready To Sell," which came out on Sunday. According to Garrioch:

"With the exception of center Jonathan Huberdeau, defenseman Erik Gudbranson, goalie Jakob Markstrom, and center Drew Shore, pretty much every player on the Florida roster is up for grabs as the Panthers try to shed some cash."

Kulikov may simply have been an oversight in that line, as moving him out won't help the Panthers get significantly cheaper, but it does suggest that Florida will be a place of interest on deadline day. Now may be the time for some team to poach Kulikov, but if it's to be the Oilers there could be challenges.

For starters, Ales Hemsky and his $5 million price tag are unlikely to be overly appealing if the Panthers want to shuffle some money out the door. But there could be other ways.

The article I linked above (you're probably too lazy to scroll up. I mean this one) dealt with the possibility of the Oilers trading the first overall pick in 2012 (Yakupov) for Kulikov. Nail Yakupov may still be interesting to the Panthers, as they are currently sitting 24th in goals per game, and Tomas Kopecky is their only scoring right winger with 16 points.

But Kulikov may have diminished value thanks to his lack of offensive production this season, which could put the Oilers in a spot to trade other high-value but low-cost assets.

I'd bet against a move of any significance at the deadline; except something stupid like, say, Justin Schultz for Kulikov, but you never know.

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