Jannik Hansen retired a champion. After 626 games in the NHL, the vast majority with the Vancouver Canucks, Hansen played one season in the KHL, winning the Gagarin Cup with CSKA Moscow. This weekend, he announced his retirement from professional hockey at the age of 33.
What does that have to do with Nikolay Goldobin? After the Canucks traded Hansen for Goldobin at the 2017 trade deadline, it looked like Goldobin might swap spots with Hansen for a second time. It was rumoured that Goldobin would sign with CSKA Moscow, his hometown team, this off-season, bolting the Canucks for the KHL like Nikita Tryamkin before him.
The rumour seemed at odds with Goldobin’s end-of-year commitment to prove his doubters wrong and his clearly-stated love for Vancouver. When asked if he thought he needed a “fresh start” somewhere else, Goldobin rejected the idea: “No, to be honest. I like to be here, I like the guys, love this city, and hopefully I’ll get another chance to play here.”
Still, the source for the rumour was the reliable Igor Eronko, who writes for Russian sports site Sport-Express, so it seemed like there might be something to it. At the very least, it seems likely that CSKA Moscow want to sign Goldobin and, given the way the season went, with Goldobin falling out of favour with Canucks head coach Travis Green, it’s understandable to think Goldobin would be willing to head back to Russia.
According to Goldobin’s agent, the rumour isn’t true. Or, rather, CSKA might very well be interested in signing Goldobin, but the interest isn't mutual: Goldobin won’t be signing in Russia and intends to play next season in Vancouver with the Canucks.
That agent, however, isn’t Igor Larionov, who has represented Goldobin since before he was drafted by the San Jose Sharks in 2014. Larionov seemed like an ideal mentor for Goldobin. Larionov earned the nickname “The Professor” as a heady playmaker in his playing days with CSKA Moscow and in the NHL with the Canucks, Sharks, and Detroit Red Wings. Perhaps Goldobin felt he needed a different voice in his corner.
Instead of the smaller team at Larionov’s Will Sports Group, who also represent current Canuck Josh Leivo, Goldobin joined the larger Newport Sports Management and will be represented by one of their Russian agents, Sergey Isakov.
Newport also represents Canucks Bo Horvat, Jacob Markstrom, Brandon Sutter, and Chris Tanev.
The timing of this move seems key: Goldobin’s entry-level contract is expiring and he will be entering the first real contract negotiation of his career. As a restricted free agent with no arbitration rights, Goldobin has little-to-no leverage, but he might think that Newport and Isakov can negotiate a better contract than Larionov.
A contract prediction model from hockey analytics site Evolving Hockey projected a two-year, $1.9 million contract for Goldobin, but that doesn’t take into account subjective factors. For instance, do the Canucks believe Goldobin is more the player that put up 23 points in 41 games in the first half of the season or the player that put up four points in 22 games in the second half of the season and was a frequent healthy scratch? The latter is the safer bet.
So, this could be a very interesting contract negotiation for Goldobin and the Canucks. With the Canucks likely hesitant to invest too much, will Goldobin gamble on himself, signing a cheap, one-year deal in hopes of proving himself and cashing in on his next contract? Or will Newport and Isakov successfully negotiate a sweeter deal?
“I feel like this is the biggest summer for me because my rookie contract is over now and not a lot of guys maybe believe I can be NHL player, but that’s why it gives me more energy and confidence to show them that I can be,” said Goldobin at the end of the season.
While Goldobin won’t be signing in the KHL, that’s also no guarantee that he’ll be with the Canucks. It’s entirely possible that Jim Benning and the Canucks will look to move Goldobin this off-season, perhaps even at the draft, where they are likely to be looking to add picks in front of their hometown fans.
In any case, let this entire thing be a lesson: take all off-season rumours with a grain of salt. Two grains, if you can spare them.