The Case For Acquiring Nikita Nikitin

DISCLAIMER: Just forget about the time the Sens traded for a Nikita from Columbus and it didn't work out and focus on the time they traded for a defenceman and it did.

In his "Short Shifts" column last night the Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson wrote:

"The Blue Jackets are trying to move defenceman Nikita Nikitin to get Tim Erixon (a piece of the Rick Nash trade) up from the minors. Nikitin was very good the last 30 games for the Jackets last season, but his play has dropped way off."

Nikitin has been a healthy scratch six times already this season. The asset cost here could be small.

As I see it Nikita Nikitin is an undervalued player, who matches the Sens current needs, and is on a relatively inexpensive contract.

After what's been paid out, if the trade was completed soonish the Sens would be on the hook for around two millionish dollars of Nikitin's contract. Now, this is a lot of money to Melnyk apparently, but I think it would be a very worthwhile investment.

So who exactly is Nikita Nikitin, well he's 6'3 217lbs, just turned 27, a left shot who can play the right-side!, haver of a recursive name, and Russian. He's not Volchenkov (though he can hit), but like Anton he has a proven ability to suppress shots against.

Since coming into the league he's outperformed his team average in shots against per 60 every season at even-strength:

Season 5v5 TOI 5v5 SA/60 Team 5v5 SA/60  5v5 SA/60 +/-
2010/11 536:38 25.0 27.2 -2.2
2011/12 1014:14 24.4 31.2 -6.8
2012/13 606:12 26.3 29.8 -3.5
2013/14 98:39 23.2 29.7 -6.5

And while shorthanded:

Season 4v5 4v5 SA/60 Team 4v5 SA/60  4v5 SA/60 +/-
2010/11 64:22 32.6 46.8 -14.2
2011/12 161:45 36.1 52.2 -16.1
2012/13 86:53 36.9 44.0 -7.1
2013/14 8:28 56.7 59.5 -2.8

Those are basically elite numbers.

Nikitin had the 18th lowest SA/60 of any regular defenceman in 2011/12, while playing the 18th hardest quality of competition all the while with a 43.9% zone start. He averaged 23:11 that season, played in all situations, scored 32 points in 61 games, and was a positive possession player with a CF% of 50.6%. In short, hard minutes, which he crushed.

I think we all agree that trading for Methot was a brilliant trade the Sens would do over ten times out of ten. And it's helpful here in that it offers a useful case study when evaluating Nikitin since both played on the same Blue Jacket roster the year before Marc arrived in Ottawa.

The x-axis is 5v5 TOI/60, the y-axis is 5v5 SA/60:

Among defenceman Nikitin was third in average even strength TOI, narrowly edging out Methot, but had the lowest SA/60. (should note the Johnson there is Aaron Johnson not Jack Johnson)

And at 4v5 shorthanded:

Again, Nikitin was the best Blue Jacket defender at suppressing shots, while playing the 2nd most minutes on average. His shorthanded SA/60 rate from 2011/12 is actually better than the Sens 5v5 SA/60 rate right now — which is both impressive and sad at the same time.

So Nikitin is good, we get it.

Moving on…

Now I'm not putting all the Senators current defensive struggles on Jared Cowen's back, anyone can see this is a team issue up and down the lineup. But Cowen has been among the weakest links, which is a problem when he's expected to be the stabilizing presence on your second pairing.

Jared Cowen is supposed to be stopper, the Senators gave him a 4 year contract at good money to be a stopper, and right now Jared Cowen isn't stopping anyone. At 5on5, he has the highest shots against per 60 of any defenceman in the league at a hideous 41.2, Wiercioch equally as bad at 41.1. To put that in perspective in the previous five seasons, Karlis Skrastin's 08/09 campaign is the worst by that statistic among regular defenceman, coming in at 34.0.

Now all statistics can look wacky in short samples, but last in the league is still last in the league.

The prevailing theory is that Cowen is still getting over his hip surgery, and that may be the issue. He looked exposed in the playoffs, and that's basically continued through the first 14 games of 2013/14. I think he'll come around eventually, just who knows when. Borowiecki played fine on Sunday (despite that sweet backhander), but as more or less another rookie he can probably only contribute so much. 

With internal options nearly exhausted, Nikitin is an excellent external target the organization should be pursuing. Sens have bodies in the AHL to trade in Da Costa and Hoffman and roster players *cough* Greening *cough* they might be wise to unload. There is a deal to be made here.

Going forward Nikitin is a UFA next summer, which isn't ideal, always better to get an asset with control. Still, Chris Phillips will be 36 at the end of the season and if the Sens are looking to turn the page — Nikita Nitikin is younger, better, and likely a not much more expensive body who can actually play reliably in an NHL top 4.

Don't miss the boat Murray.

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