Vancouver Canucks blue line hit hard as Nikita Tryamkin returns to Russia
April 20, 2017, 2:19 PM ET [312 Comments]
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It was nearly a decade ago that Mike Gillis started instituting changes in an effort to make the Vancouver Canucks a desirable destination for hockey players.
Over that time, the Canucks have had no trouble acquiring big-name free agents and signing their draft picks. Off the top of my head, I think the last player who balked at coming to Vancouver was R.J. Umberger, who was drafted back in 2001 and had his rights traded to the New York Rangers by then-G.M. Brian Burke at the 2004 trade deadline, shortly before he became a free agent.
That changes today, as promising 22-year-old defenseman Nikita Tryamkin has chosen to leave the Canucks and return to his home team in the KHL, Yekaterinburg Automobilist.
The Canucks have now confirmed the news. Here's Jim Benning's quote from the team's press release:
“We are disappointed Nikita chose to sign in the KHL, but also recognize from what he told us in our exit meetings that this was a family decision first. He has a chance to be an impact player in the NHL and we offered him a two-year extension. But for now he is home and we will move ahead with building this team with other young players.”
Here's the link to the interview with Tryamkin from the Automobilist website.
Google Translate offers up a pretty decent picture of his thoughts—and there is talk about how much he missed his family.
"This time was just on the family. Native, grandfather, grandmother. They did not see me and my wife for a whole year, we must also give them time. Not so that for 10 minutes to come, but really come, sit, talk."
As well as being so far away from his family, I'm sure the language barrier would also have contributed to a sense of isolation for Tryamkin and his wife. Nikolay Goldobin was born and raised in Moscow and seems to have a taste for Western culture. Yekaterinburg is Russia's fourth-largest city, but is more than 1,000 miles to the east, not too far north of the border with Kazakhstan.
Other NHL players who came from Yekaterinburg (known as Sverdlovsk up until 1991) include Pavel Datsyuk, Alexei Yashin and Nikolai Khabibulin. We also saw Datsyuk return to Russia less than a year ago for family reasons.
Tryamkin's move could also be part of a larger trend. As soon as Gary Bettman closed the door on NHL players participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics, we started to hear rumblings that the Russians would try to get as many players as possible back to the KHL, which would allow them to participate.
International hockey is very important in Russia. My impression is that if the homeland calls, one cannot say no.
Is it the whole story with Tryamkin? No.
After all the effort that the Canucks went through to sign him late in the 2015-16 season, he ended up in limbo because of the conditions of his contract that forbade the team from sending him down to the AHL at the beginning of this season.
While he spent the first 10 games of the season as a healthy scratch, there was talk that the Canucks had asked him to waive that clause and suit up in Utica—and I can see how that would not be appreciated after the negotiation had already taken place.
There were also some rumblings that he might go back to Russia at that time, which Tryamkin seems to confirm in his interview.
"I had an incomprehensible situation. I did not play the first 10 matches. Indeed, there were talks about the return, but Vancouver did not let me go, so I stayed. As it happened, it happened."
Tryamkin also cites ice time as an issue. He did finish with the lowest average ice time of any of the blue line regulars—16:44 per game. And as he says in the interview, his ice time when he did play was all over the map—sometimes 21 minutes; sometimes 12.
Things might have been different for Tryamkin on the ice next season, with both Willie Desjardins and Doug Lidster gone from the organization. He wasn't happy with his deployment, he had culture shock, he got the mumps and he played for a team that went into a complete tailspin at the end of the year. All things considered, not a super-appealing situation when other options are available.
So, I get it. But I am SO disappointed.
Many nights last year, Tryamkin was one of my favourite players to watch. His sheer size was extraordinary, his skating was amazing and it seemed like he had so much untapped potential.
He was also one of very few Canucks that had a physical element to his game. Though he played only 66 games, he led the team with 145 hits. I'd say the Jamie Benn moment from November 13 was the most memorable.
Benn was also the opponent in Tryamkin's second (and last) NHL fight:
I was looking forward to watching that rivalry unfold for years to come!
Tryamkin also fought Zack Smith of Ottawa earlier in November, in his first game of the year.
All told, Tryamkin went 3-8-11 with 74 penalty minutes in 79 games over two NHL seasons. All three of his goals came on the road—including Vancouver's last goal of the year, in Edmonton on April 9.
Another tragedy—we never got to hear his goal song!
Given how the Canucks' season unfolded, it seems somehow appropriate that today, Tryamkin is once again overshadowing his fellow blueliner Philip Larsen, who is also decamping for the KHL after a tumultuous year in Vancouver.
Larsen was an unrestricted free agent after the completion of his one-year contract with the Canucks. Brought in with the hopes that he could anchor the power play, he played just 26 games, going 1-5-6.
His goal was the lone bright spot in Vancouver's 4-1 loss to San Jose on February 2.
I presume these latest developments will put an end to any conversation about trading a defenseman for help up front. It may also strengthen the Canucks' pursuit of OHL free agent Darren Raddysh, or their willingness to sign Carl Neill once his playoffs come to and end.
For Olli Juolevi, today is an especially good day. His chances of making the Canucks' main roster next season have just increased dramatically!