Alex Rogulev of Rsport published a fascinating report on Friday that could spell big changes for the Washington blue line next season. According to the report, Russian defenseman Ilya Nikulin, who will not re-sign with Ak Bars Kazan, is in negotiations with an NHL team. That NHL team: the Washington Capitals.
If this pans out, it’ll be huge for the Caps and for Russian hockey.
Drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers but never signed, Nikulin has spent his entire professional career playing defense in the KHL and its predecessor. He’s been team captain for Team Russia, and– most relevant to this story– a close personal friend of Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin is reportedly godfather to Nikulin’s son.
Nikulin has flirted with the NHL before, most notably in 2008-09, but he never made the jump. Now, after a decade with Kazan, it sounds like he’s ready for a change.
From Rogulev’s story in Rsport, as translated by RMNB’s Igor Kleyner:
NHL club Washington Capitals are conducting contract negotiations with ex-Ak Bars Kazan defenseman Ilya Nikulin, according to a source familiar with negotiations.
In May it became known that Ak Bars and Nikulin are not extending the contract after the player’s 10-year stay in Kazan. The 33-year-old defenseman is now an unrestricted free agent. It was reported earlier that Nikulin is counting on continuing his career in the NHL, although the player himself refused to confirm that.
According to the agency’s source, the club that is negotiating with representatives of Nikulin is Washington. The player himself declined to confirm this information. “Right now I am not comfortable talking. Call me next week.”
Rsport is a reputable publication and Rogulev is a reliable reporter, so this story merits more credence than your average Russian rumor. Even though the sources are anonymous, the story makes sense. Ovechkin and Nikulin are best friends. In addition to the godfather angle, they’ve played together on the national team almost every year. They sang Shaybu together. Ovechkin even stole a loonie from the ice at Worlds in 2008 and gave it to Nikulin.
Besides, the Caps have a long history of courting Russian players, and their defense is pretty shallow right now (Chorney, Stanton, or Carrick don’t exactly inspire confidence in the 7D spot.)
But there’s one big problem with this scenario: money. After big paydays for Holtby and Johansson, the Caps are nudging up against the salary cap with less than a million to spend.
Skepticism aside, this is an exciting story. Although he’s getting older, Nikulin is a viable player and an improvement over other option on the Caps blue line. His history with Alex Ovechkin could be a force multiplier for both players. We’ll see what happens next.
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