We are nearing the end of our 2018-19 Pilot’s Logbook series as we reflect on the past season for each Winnipeg Jets player. Today we are looking at Kulikov’s season, which was statistically the worst of his career. Will he bounce back over the off-season and become a more important piece next year? We will have to wait and see, but in the meantime, let’s look at the year as a whole.
5 – Defense
6’1″ / 204 lbs / Age: 28
|Season||GP||CF||CA||CF%||CF% rel||FF||FA||FF%||FF% rel||oiGF||oiSH%||oiGA||oiSV%||PDO||oZS%||dZS%|
Kulikov only has one more year left on his contract with an AAV of $4.333 million. It’s the final season of the three year deal that he signed with the club back in 2017. Kulikov also has a modified no trade clause where he can submit a list of six teams that he cannot be dealt to. At the end of this deal next summer, Kulikov will become a UFA.
Player’s Season in Review
Kulikov’s tenure with the Jets hasn’t quite gone as planned for either party. His minutes have decreased significantly since joining the team back in 2017-18 and he’s been used sparingly on the third pairing, primarily with Tyler Myers.
When looking at the boxscore stats, this season was the worst of his career. He played the fewest minutes by far with only 15:40 per game and only chipped in six assists offensively. It’s the first year of his career where he was unable to score at least one goal.
As we often see, the boxscore stats mirror the underlying numbers as he struggled with majority of the advanced metrics. He finished fifth last among all Jets skaters in on-ice xGoals% with 46%. He also had poor numbers in terms of scoring chances as the Jets only had 46.97% of the chances when Kulikov was on the ice.
These poor possession numbers become more clear when looking at the shot maps. Kulikov had a really tough time at stopping high danger chances. Opponents were able to get right into the slot repeatedly while Kulikov was on the ice.
This is also supported by the eye test which saw Kulikov struggle to get the puck out of his own zone as he often got hemmed in for long periods at a time.
The interesting thing about Kulikov, is that he spent almost all of his time alongside Tyler Myers. With Myers recently getting signed by Vancouver, Kulikov will have to find a new partner for next season. This might actually be a good thing as Kulikov and Myers often struggled at getting the puck out of the zone. If Kulikov can play with someone else, he might be able to find some more chemistry and enjoy a slightly more effective season.
What We Said A Year Ago
“With Myers on that third pair, the duo was reasonably ok for the first 10 or 12 games or so of the season. It was that first handful of games where they saw typically third pairing – sometimes second pairing duty limited to 15 to 18 minutes of ice time per game and while not flashy or putting up big offensive numbers, they seemed to hold their own defensively. It was when the Jets started to deal with injuries to Enstrom and Byfuglien that the Jets pressed both Myers and Kulikov into larger minutes which exposed them to making more mistakes.”
Kulikov’s not actually that bad. Despite what some of the numbers show, he could be a serviceable third pairing defender in the NHL. The two main issues facing Kulikov is his injury history and his contract. A history of back injuries is never a good thing and they might rear their ugly head at any moment. Lastly, Kulikov’s contract is where the real issue is. If Kulikov was only making $1-2 million, he would be a decent option on the third pairing. However, paying someone over $4 million to be sheltered on the third pairing is not a smart use of funds. The Jets will likely have Kulikov finish out his final season before they part ways next summer.