Not much has gone right for the Buffalo Sabres this season.
Jack Eichel missed the start of the season with an ankle injury, although at least he’s bounced back with just shy of a point-per-game since returning. Free agent acquisition Kyle Okposo should hit the 20-goal mark again, but could miss getting 50 points in an 82-game season for the first time since 2012. And even with a bounce back in performance between the pipes, where Robin Lehner has a .922 save percentage and backup Anders Nilsson sits at .920, the Sabres still find themselves nine points out of the playoffs and in line for another top 10 pick in the draft.
On Tuesday, Sabres GM Tim Murray was on local radio station WGR 550 and talked a little about the team’s off-season search for a top-pair defenceman last summer. While he wasn’t convinced he had a Cup-winning defence for the young team, Murray thought the blue line was at least good enough to get Buffalo into the playoffs — instead the team allows the most shots against per game in the league at 34.3.
In trying to build the defence, Murray traded defenceman Mark Pysyk and two draft picks to the Florida Panthers for Dmitry Kulikov and a second-rounder. The idea was that Kulikov could be a second-pair and perhaps even a top-pair blueliner for the team and eat a lot of stable minutes. But as Murray said, it hasn’t worked out as planned with the Russian defenceman.
In just 39 games this season, Kulikov has one goal, two points, is a minus-17 player and averages 21:31 of ice time. But it hasn't really been a season to blame on decline, because the 26-year-old has been battling a back injury since being checked into an open bench door in the pre-season. Kulikov has missed significant time and had his play negatively affected by the nagging injury.
Kulikov is currently making $4.33 million against the salary cap and is eligible to become a UFA on July 1.