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Photo Credit: © Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Evaluating Contract Values – Dmitry Kulikov

This is the third of an 8-part series evaluating how several of the Jets have performed against their recently signed contracts. In each article, I’ll look at the season or seasons that preceded the signing of their contract, who their comparables were at the time, and how they have performed since the new contract began. In evaluating the new contract performance, I will pull comparables, and use their average annual cap hit to determine if the contract turned out to be good value, average value, or poor value.

Rating the Contracts

Each contract will be rated on a scale from Great Value (5/5) to Terrible Value (1/5). The rating will be based on the difference between the original signed AAV, and the current market value.

Great Value: Current Market Value >20% higher than original signed AAV

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Good Value: Current Market Value between 5% and 20% higher than original signed AAV

Average Value: Current Market Value between 5% lower and 10% higher than original signed AAV

Poor Value: Current Market Value between 5% and 20% lower than original signed AAV

Terrible Value: Current Market Value <20% lower than original signed AAV

The History

Dmitry Kulikov was drafted in the 1st round, 14th overall, in the 2009 NHL Draft by the Florida Panthers.  He was coming off his final junior season in Drummondville, where he had 12 goals and 50 assists in 57 games, and was named the QMJHL Defenseman of the Year.

After being drafted by Florida, he was thrown straight into the NHL lineup, and had a decent amount of success on a bad Florida team.  In his first 3 seasons, he registered 13 goals and 57 assists across 198 games.  In 2011-12, the Panthers qualified for the playoffs for the first time in 12 seasons, and Kulikov set career highs in assists (24) and points (28), which are still his career highs as of today.

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After four more seasons with mixed results, and a hefty $4,333,333 price tag, the Panthers traded Kulikov at the 2016 NHL Draft to the Buffalo Sabres along with a 2nd round pick in exchange for Mark Pysyk, a 2nd round pick and a 3rd round pick.  Kulikov struggled to stay healthy in his one season in Buffalo, playing in a career low 47 games for the Sabres.  In those 47 games, he registered just 2 goals and 3 assists, while putting up a career low -26 on a team with a goal differential of just -36.

At only 27 years of age, Kulikov hit unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career in the summer of 2017.  With the Jets in need of defensemen after seeing Paul Postma, Mark Stuart, and Brian Strait leave town, the Jets went out and signed Kulikov to a 3-year contract, matching the AAV from his previous contract at $4.33 million.  At the time, it seemed like an overpay, but the consensus was that the Jets would have to overpay for higher-end free agents, and to acquire a 27-year old defenseman with 507 games of NHL experience would be an asset for the Jets.

Since the Contract Began

In his first season with the Jets, Kulikov rebounded well from his disappointing season in 16/17, putting up 3 goals and 8 assists for 11 points in 62 games.  However, the back injury that he suffered in 16/17 was reaggravated on March 8th, which forced him to miss the final 20 games of the regular season, and all but 1 game in the playoff run.

In 2018-19, Kulikov once again struggled to stay in the Jets line-up.  He played in just 57 games, recording no goals and 6 assists in those games.  He recorded a +4 rating, which followed his +6 in 2017/18.  Prior to his arrival with the Jets, he had recorded just one plus season in his career.  In the first round series against St Louis, he played in all 6 games, recording no points and an Even rating as the Jets lost 4-2 to the Blues.

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With the departures of Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot last summer, Kulikov was forced into a greater role in 2019/20.  In 51 games before the season was paused, Kulikov recorded 2 goals and 8 assists for 10 points.  He also recorded his highest average ice time since being signed by the Jets, breaking the 20-minute mark at 20:01, and his highest Corsi % since the 2014-15 season with Florida at 50.8%.

The Comparables – Market Value Evaluation

When comparing Kulikov’s performance over the last 3 regular seasons, there are three main comparables.  These are Vegas’ Jon Merrill, Dallas’ Roman Polak, and Nathan Beaulieu.  A comparison of their regular season stats is in the table below:

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Statistic D. Kulikov J. Merrill R. Polak N. Beaulieu
GP 170 140 172 145
G 5 6 3 5
A 22 19 22 24
PTS 27 25 25 29
+/- 6 32 5 2
PIM 101 107 139 104
TOI/G 17:29 17:32 18:06 16:05
PP TOI/G 0:05 0:10 0:01 0:27
SH TOI/G 1:41 1:05 2:38 0:55
Corsi % 49.2% 54.7% 45.5% 47.7%
Fenwick % 48.7% 55.2% 45.9% 48.5%
2017-18 AAV $4,333,333 $1,137,500 $1,100,000 $2,400,000
2018-19 AAV $4,333,333 $1,375,000 $1,300,000 $2,400,000
2019-20 AAV $4,333,333 $1,375,000 $1,750,000 $1,000,000
Average AAV $4,333,333 $1,295,833 $1,383,333 $1,933,333

Based on the table, the average AAV over the 3 years for Kulikov’s comparables is $1,537,500.  This is a decrease of $2,795,833 compared to Kulikov’s AAV, or a 64% decrease in market value compared to Kulikov’s original contract value.

Conclusion

While Dmitry Kulikov has been a serviceable defenseman over his 3 seasons with the Jets and has helped provide depth on the left side of the Jets blueline, the contract that he signed in the summer of 2017 has turned out to be one of the most significant overpays in Kevin Cheveldayoff’s history as the GM of the Jets.  If the Jets want to retain Kulikov’s services in free agency this fall, I believe they will need to do it at a much lower cap number, which is always difficult to do in a free-agent situation.

Contract Rating: Terrible Value (1/5)