Canucks’ Nikita Tryamkin and the Salary Cap Struggle

Canucks Prospects, Nikita Tryamkin

Things between enigmatic defenceman Nikita Tryamkin and the Vancouver Canucks are heating up.

A couple of weeks ago, TSN1040 and The Athletic Vancouver contributor Rick Dhaliwal provided an update on the status of the enigmatic Russian blueliner, among other things. Before going any further here, check out Rick’s post below:

Rick is under the impression it would likely take about $2-3 million on a one-year deal to get Tryamkin to return to North America and re-join the Canucks. On the surface, that doesn’t seem so bad, especially if he’s able to live up to his long-awaited potential. But Vancouver’s cap situation is precarious – it may be hard to justify bringing him in at a number that high.

The Case for Tryamkin

I’ll start by saying Tryamkin is fun to watch and it’s understandable why Canucks fans are so eager to see him back. I’ll also start by saying I was a huge fan of his game – his was one of the first real hockey jerseys I purchased.

Fans likely remember, first and foremost, how massive he is. Fans also likely remember his physicality and the way he can move around the ice for such a big man.

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Tryamkin has decent hockey skills. His skating isn’t bad for such a big man; he’s able to close off on defenders and use his long reach effectively, getting his stick into passing and shooting lanes. At the 1:01 mark in the video below, you can see a great example of this.

Tryamkin is also a menace along the boards. He’s able to effectively use his massive frame, pinning attackers to the wall. In the above video at 0:05, he aggressively attacks the forechecker with a bodycheck, then pinning him to the boards.

The videos have excellent examples of what makes Tryamkin such a tantalizing player. His skating is on display here – look how he’s able to blow by a defender and turn a quick shot on goal for a rebound.

Original video via bigwhite06.

This was most prominent in his 2017-18 season with KHL club Yekaterinburg Automobilist. As his team had less overall offence, he was given more opportunity to make plays, culminating in a career-high 25 points.

The Russian blueliner also has a decent shot that he isn’t afraid to use. In the above clips, he frequently takes low shots from the point to generate rebounds or deflections. At the eight-second mark of the above video, his shot selection and pinch right before the shot directly led to this goal:

What many are really excited about with Tryamkin, however, is the thought of having some more “push-back” for the young players. It’s no secret the Canucks have been a softer team over the last few seasons. Numerous moves were made to address this concern, from acquiring players like Derek Dorsett and Erik Gudbranson, to having a more wolf pack mentality.

Adding the hulking KHL defenceman would be another step in addressing this – he’s big, physical, and not afraid to stand up for his teammates. In his short NHL career thus far, he has thrown 176 hits and blocked 110 shots. He’s willing to sacrifice his body for his team, a quality any team is looking for.

His True Talent

There’s no question about it: Tryamkin has very intriguing tools that could easily make him an effective NHL defenceman.

The problem is the big blueliner turns 26 in August. At this point, it’s fair to say he is what he is as a player – no further development should be expected at this point, barring any incredible circumstances.

The fact that he likely won’t develop any further as a player is concerning, given that he didn’t fare well in his last NHL stint. Although his relationship with former head coach Willie Desjardins was poor and ultimately led to his departure, Desjardins’ lack of trust in Tryamkin wasn’t necessarily unfounded.

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While jumping into the play can often be a good thing, it’s critical to be smart and stay positionally sound. Tryamkin has a tendency to roam around the ice, completely leaving his position. In this clip, he makes a nice play by supporting the forechecker on the wall, but then he roams to the other side of the ice to chase a hit, abandoning his position.

In his brief NHL stint, Tryamkin essentially performed akin to a bottom pairing to replacement-level defender. Honestly, he didn’t perform much better than Oscar Fantenberg did this past season. They scored relatively similarily in shot and scoring chance metrics, with the latter having the defensive edge.

Tryamkin definitely needs to work on his defensive game. The opposition generally didn’t have a difficult time getting to the front of the net for grade-A scoring chances when he was on the ice. The top two charts are his offensive shot locations, while the bottom two show his defensive impact.

It’s important to bear in mind how bad the Canucks were in the two seasons Tryamkin was in the NHL. It says a lot that the Canucks were generally worse when he was off the ice, and they were still bad when he was on. Those were dark days.

Next Steps

Tryamkin returning to the Canucks would be interesting, no doubt. He could add much-needed depth and could be an upgrade for the third pairing. His size, push-back, and overall skill set would be a welcome addition to the team’s back end.

That said, his asking price may be outside of the team’s salary range. $2-3 million is a lot given Vancouver’s current salary situation, especially for a wildcard like Tryamkin. It isn’t even a guarantee he will provide positive value for the Canucks – he could end up comparable to Fantenberg or even Jordie Benn.

Josh Leivo Vancouver Canucks
Is losing Josh Leivo worth signing Tryamkin? (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Canucks will need to make some difficult choices if they want to bring Tryamkin back to Vancouver. For example, Evolving-Hockey projects Josh Leivo will earn a three-year contract worth about $1.856 million per season if he re-signs. Is bringing in a relative unknown worth losing an extremely effective top-nine forward? I would argue it isn’t, even if I do want to see what that unknown can do in the NHL. It’s a difficult decision for General Manager Jim Benning and his team.

If I were in Benning’s shoes, I would look to sign Tryamkin to a one-year deal worth about $1 million, perhaps even with AHL games mixed in. I’m not convinced he can provide significant value, or at least more so, than a player like Leivo or even Jordie Benn. Would he accept that kind of deal? That remains to be seen; if he isn’t I would implore the Canucks to look elsewhere in their hunt for defencemen and trade the big blueliners negotiation rights. No matter the decision, this is a delicate salary cap dance for a team that could use a bit of defensive help.

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