F Nikolay Kulemin is scheduled to hit Free Agency this summer. However, that might not be such a good thing for the New York Islanders and it would be in their best interest to extend him.
On November 7th, 2017 New York Islanders forward, Nikolay Kulemin’s 2017-18 season came to an end. It was his 13th game of the year and while trying to retrieve a loose puck near the benches, he was thrown into the boards by Eric Gryba of the Edmonton Oilers. At first, Kulemin got up and made the short trip to the bench but after the play was blown dead for the penalty against Gryba (a two-minute minor for boarding), Kulemin skated across the ice and down the tunnel.
Six days later it was announced that Kulemin had surgery on his right shoulder and would be out for six months, ending his season with only 13 games played, a goal, and two assists.
There is no doubt that this will be not only a busy offseason for the New York Islanders but a crucial one as well. Their franchise player and captain, John Tavares is set to become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) and the same goes for Calvin de Haan, Thomas Hickey, Jaroslav Halak, and others.
Overlooked in all of this offseason discussion is Kulemin. After spending the past four years with the Islanders, Kulemin will be a UFA this summer and many have already deemed him as good as gone.
Was Kulemin skating off the ice, hunched over in pain, the last memory we will have of him in an Islanders uniform or are there more ahead?
Kulemin came to the Islanders on July 2nd, 2014 in what many consider a package deal with Mikhail Grabovski. Grabovski played with Kulemin in Toronto from 2008-2013 until the Maple Leafs bought out Grabovski’s contract and he signed a one-year deal with the Washington Capitals. Kulemin and Grabovski are very close friends who had unbelievable chemistry playing together with the Toronto Maple Leafs and so the two were signed by the Isles on the second day of free agency in 2014.
Kulemin’s new contract was a four-year deal worth $16,750,000 ($4,187,500 annually). There’s no doubt the Islanders were hoping him and Grabovski could rekindle their chemistry that saw Kulemin score 30 goals and 57 points while Grabovski put up 29 goals and 58 points on the same line during the 2010-11 season with Toronto.
Unfortunately for Grabovski, several concussions, both before and during his time with the Isles, basically ended his career prematurely. Grabovski played 109 games with the Isles, scoring 18 goals and 48 points. After missing a season and a half, his cap hit was shipped off to the Vegas Golden Knights in an Expansion Draft trade.
Kulemin, however, stayed pretty healthy. In his first season with the Islanders (2014-15), he played in all 82 regular-season games and six playoff games. He had 15 goals and 31 points during the regular-season and two points (the go-ahead goal in Game 6 and an assist) in the team’s seven-game series against the Capitals.
In his second season, Kulemin missed one game and it was a game in which he was a healthy scratch. He had nine goals, including three game-winning goals, and 22 points as well as one goal and four points playing in all 11 of the team’s postseason games.
In his third season, Kulemin filled in for Matt Martin on the team’s infamous fourth-line with Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck. He missed ten games but he still managed 23 points (12 goals and 11 assists) in a mostly fourth-line, occasionally third-line role.
All four seasons with the team, Kulemin has been their top penalty-killer and without him, the defense and penalty-kill fell apart. With Kulemin in the lineup, the team allowed just seven power-play goals on 43 opportunities, killing off 83.7 percent of them.
To put that into perspective, the Boston Bruins finished the regular-season with the league’s third-best penalty-kill percentage, which was also 83.7 percent. The best penalty-kill belonged to the Los Angeles Kings at 85 percent. However, Kulemin only played 13 games and by the season’s end, the Islanders’ penalty-kill dropped to 73.2 percent, the worst percentage in the league.
The Isles went 7-4-2 with Kulemin in the lineup. Nine of those 13 games were against teams that were in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs and five advanced to the second-round or further. Those 16 points in 13 games are equivalent to a 1.23 points per game pace which would’ve put the Islanders at 101 points over an 82 game season. Without Kulemin, the team went 28-33-8 (64 points). That’s a 0.93 points per game pace which equals 76 points in 82 games.
Of course, there were other factors to this lost season. Calvin de Haan had season-ending surgery in late December, Johnny Boychuk missed around two months, and only four players played in all 82 games. However, Kulemin’s absence from the lineup was one of the biggest, yet most un-talked about, losses to the Isles’ season.
It would be wise to have Kulemin higher up on the priority list for this offseason. At 31-years-old, he’ll most likely ask for substantially less than his previous contract and he is the defensive-minded forward that the fans were begging for around the trade deadline.