Nikita Tryamkin’s decision to take KHL deal dripping in drama

‘We were prepared to pay Nikita what he was asking for, but my understanding is that his decision in the end was based on wanting to stay in Russia, rather than play in the NHL.’ — Canucks general manager Jim Benning.

Towering defenceman Nikita Tryamkin has signed a new three-year contract with Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg PHOTO BY GERRY KAHRMANN /PNG

Towering defenceman Nikita Tryamkin has signed a new three-year contract with Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg PHOTO BY GERRY KAHRMANN /PNG

Ben Kuzma National Post

It’s always been a numbers game with the intriguing Nikita Tryamkin.

How would his 6-foot-7 frame and improved fitness translate to today’s fast-paced NHL, especially if the defenceman was to return to the Vancouver Canucks next season after the expiration of his KHL contact?

And what would the club’s polarising third-round pick in the 2014 NHL draft, who logged 11 points (3-8) in 79 games before bolting to his homeland after the 2016-17 season, demand in a new contact?

 Those number conversations are now moot because Tryamkin is staying put.

According to Canucks general manager Jim Benning, the native of Yekaterinburg, Russia, has not only signed a three-year contract with Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg, it’s a tax-free deal. As for the actual numbers, that’s as much of a mystery as the towering blueliner.

KHL salaries range from US$100,000 to $1.2 million a season, but centre Vadim Shipachyov of Moscow Dynamo was reportedly earning the league’s richest contact at US$1.757 million annually, while the top-paid defenceman was Philip Larsen at US$1.04 million. As for Tryamkin, his two-year, $US1.85 million Canucks contract had an annual salary cap hit of US$925,000.

“We were prepared to pay Nikita what he was asking for, but my understanding is that his decision in the end was based on wanting to stay in Russia, rather than play in the NHL,” Benning said Sunday.

That figure wasn’t revealed. Postmedia has learned one and two-year deals were presented to the Canucks, but weren’t based on NHL market comparables of where Tryamkin’s game is at after being out of the NHL for four seasons and turning 27 in August.

Postmedia was told no actual negotiations took place.

Towering defenceman Nikita Tryamkin has signed a new three-year contract with Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg. PHOTO BY GERRY KAHRMANN /PNG

Towering defenceman Nikita Tryamkin has signed a new three-year contract with Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg. PHOTO BY GERRY KAHRMANN /PNG

“Very simply, the financial gap was too wide for it to make sense for Nikita to move his family to Vancouver for less money than he was making in the KHL,” agent Todd Diamond said in an email response Sunday. “We tried to make the number(s) palatable to the Canucks by our willingness to do a one-year deal.

“Nikita wanted to know the numbers now and was not prepared to wait for the Canucks to try and move some contracts out. We waited last summer for the Canucks to sign him and when Jim could not get approval, Nikita was left to negotiate a contract with his KHL club that had spent nearly its entire budget.

“Jim’s preference was for him to be a Canuck and that was Nikita’s preference, too.”

It’s not a stretch to suggest that leverage could have come into play. If Tryamkin had a playing option to remain home, he could have taken the Canucks’ figure back to his KHL club — if that was his ultimate desire.

Avtomobilist assistant coach Perry Pearn, a former NHL assistant with five teams including the Canucks, believes Tryamkin has game.

“He can play in the NHL, said Pearn. “He’s not a top two on a good team and maybe he’s not top four, but he’s a five or a six. He’s way fitter than he was in Vancouver. We got him playing within himself, not trying to do too much. His mobility for a guy that size is good.”

The 2016-17 season got off to a contentious start when Tryamkin sat the first 10 games. He had a contract clause that allowed him to return home if demoted by the Canucks, even for a conditioning stint in the AHL.

Tryamkin was either culpable or just following directions in his final season here. He piled up 27 minor penalties in 66 games — tied for second among rookies — and finished fourth in penalty minutes because he was asked to be more aggressive and made multiple mistakes. But he was also tied for seventh in rookie hits (145) and tied for 11th in blocked shots (87).

What always kept the door open for a possible Tryamkin return, according to Diamond, was being buoyed by franchise direction when Travis Green was promoted to the coaching helm and assistant Nolan Baumgartner came to work with the defencemen.

Tryamkin and his young wife left Vancouver after the club missed the playoffs under bench boss Willie Desjardins, with Doug Lidster guiding the blue-line. And while the Canucks called the exit a “family decision,” there was much more to it.

“It’s a world of difference,” Diamond said. “The coach (Green) is demanding but fair and is doing a good job and can work with young players and same with the defensive coach (Baumgartner) and it’s night and day from where it was at.”

Regardless of Tryamkin’s history, or projections and promise of current value, the back end here continues to be a work in progress without Tryamkin.

On July 14, 2020, the Canucks signed Harvard University standout Jack Rathbone, their fourth-round pick in the 2017 draft, to a three-year entry deal. Rathbone, who turns 22 on May 20, is currently on the taxi squad and expected to play before the club’s regular-season schedule concludes May 19.

Madison Bowey is also on the taxi squad with unrestricted free agents Brogan Rafferty and Ashton Sautner. Alex Edler and Travis Hamonic are also UFAs while restricted free agent Quinn Hughes needs a considerable contract extension.