Canuck fans were devastated when, in the opening days of the 2017 offseason, Nikita Tryamkin announced that he was leaving the team to return to the KHL. What seemed like a temporary sojourn to escape Willie Desjardins was soon revealed as a three-year commitment, which naturally led to fans questioning whether Tryamkin would ever return from Mother Russia. After a season away from Vancouver, it was announced that Tryamkin would be taking over as the captain of Avtomobilist for the 2018/19 season, which would appear to indicate that the player is in the KHL for the long haul. The news makes for a perfect opportunity to examine the facts of the matter, and determine once and for all whether it’s time to give up hope for the Return of the Big Guy in 2020—when his KHL contract concludes.
In order to cut through the speculation, we’ll be looking solely at statements that come straight from the workhorse defenseman’s mouth. These primary sources will be sorted into two categories—those that support the argument FOR Tryamkin one day returning to Vancouver, and those that support the argument AGAINST.
In April of 2017, shortly after it was announced that Tryamkin would be leaving the NHL to join Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg, the first bits of information leaked out. Dave Tomlinson of TSN Radio 1040 opined that “there were some things about the North American game that just didn’t sit right with” Tryamkin, and recounted a specific incident in which “Tryamkin asked him why a player (Jamie Benn) would come back and want to fight him after he made a clean hit.”
Though Tryamkin remains an intimidating physical specimen, he does not seem to have the mean streak to go with it, and the constant expectations for him to add snarl to his game really seemed to rub him the wrong way. As Tomlinson recalls, Tryamkin once complained that the Canucks staff had showed him a highlight package of Chris Pronger “being Pronger,” and asked him to incorporate similar nastiness in his own play. According to Tomlinson, this just wasn’t in Tryamkin’s “DNA.”
Tryamkin completed an interview with a KHL source shortly after rejoining Avtomobilist, and he did not speak kindly of his time in Vancouver. Tryamkin complained about his lack of icetime with the Canucks, and stated that “I would not get pleasure from the game and just sit, look and realize that there’s nothing you can do.”
Not only was Tryamkin struggling to earn icetime in Vancouver, he describes himself as struggling to understand the reasons behind his frequent benchings, saying “During the season, I was not happy with some of the matches. Sometimes I just do not understand – why?”
Overall, this interview painted a picture of a player not happy with the way he was treated by the Canucks, and one who was excited to play a role as a top-tier defenseman in the KHL.
Another interview later that summer with Sports-Express reporter Igor Eronko revealed that many of Tryamkin’s problems with the Canucks were actually problems with coach Willie Desjardins, who by that point had already been fired by the organization. Tryamkin describes great difficulty in communicating with Desjardins, stating “I have many times been superfluous. Yes, not even a lot – almost always me. And did not understand why. I spend a good game, and for five or seven minutes to the end I’m put on the bench without any explanation. It was very strange.”
Tryamkin wasn’t just happy with his own deployment, but also that of fellow Russian Nikolay Goldobin, as he says “I’m certainly not a coach, but, in my opinion, Kolya (Goldobin) should be allowed to play. He is small, brisk, his hands are in order, and he knows how to score goals. In the first match [he] scored, and after that he was [benched for]. So what is this? Where is the logic?…He scores in Edmonton in the last game…he is again saddled. If a person does not play, how will he grow up? How do you understand that he can play?”
While these statements again demonstrate how unhappy Tryamkin was in Vancouver, they also clearly show that much of his displeasure centered around the coaching of Desjardins, something that is no longer a factor. Presumably, Tryamkin would not have the same issues with Travis Green.
Unfortunately, that same interview with Eronko also revealed that Tryamkin might not be a huge fan of the city of Vancouver, and the reason for his disdain is rather unexpected. When Tryamkin describes Vancouver as a “dope city,” he’s not just picking up on local slang. As Tryamkin elaborated, “Everywhere you go it’s not just smell, it really stinks of weed.”
This was not just an off-the-cuff statement, either. Tryamkin went on a veritable rant about marijuana, claiming that “Everyone smokes grass everywhere. The city is all in smoke. There is still a street – I do not remember what is called. So there even in a car it’s scary to go. A lot of bad guys. They can not stand on their feet, but they still smoke without stopping.”
He even went as far as to suggest that Vancouver’s love of pot affected his home life, claiming that “In downtown, in the center of the city stank the same. We lived on the tenth floor – even there, it used to smell. This is how much you need to smoke? It seems to me, it was possible to stick the receiver out of the window and inhale.”
Again, these statements might seem humourous, but this is plainly something that legitimately bothers Nikita. With marijuana due to be legalized in mid-October, it’s also not something that is going to change anytime soon.
It wasn’t until December of 2017 that anyone asked actually asked about Tryamkin’s potential return to Vancouver. Sportsnet’s Rick Dhaliwal asked Avtomobilist assistant coach and general manager Alexei Volkov about the chances of a comeback, and Volkov responded that, “He talks about it, he wants to go back someday. He will give it one more shot when he’s ready.”
While Volkov is obviously talking about the far-flung future of 2020, when Tryamkin’s contract with Avtomobilist ends, this statement can only be taken as a positive.
Like many messy breakups, the split between Nikita Tryamkin and the Vancouver Canucks involved some serious scrutiny of one another’s social media feeds. Several Canuck fans noticed that Tryamkin was still actively following the team on Instagram, and he confirmed as much in an April 2018 interview with Sports.ru, stating that, “the time difference is 12 hours, so I wake up, I turn on the games before training, it’s interesting to see how the team is doing. I watch the reviews, I watch the Russian guys who plays and who scores, I wonder.”
As could be expected, Tryamkin pays closest attention to his friend, Goldobin, but he is tuned in enough to the Canucks’ day-to-day happenings that he was able to comment on their fortunes in the 2018 Draft and the retirement of the Sedins, saying “[the] Brothers Sedin left, they made a huge contribution to the history of the club, amazing people who played for 18 years without changing the team. Now there will be a great chance to prove themselves [for] the young guys, and if Vancouver succeeds in taking the first or second pick in the draft, it will mean a lot, because the team needs another young leader like [Brock] Boeser. The first to go are [Andrei] Svechnikov and [Rasmus] Dahlin, very good players.”
This amount of investment in his former club can only be read as a positive, as it clearly demonstrates that Tryamkin has yet to close the door on that chapter of his life.
Despite Tryamkin’s sunny disposition in the April 2018 Russian-language article, the situation was a lot more ambiguous when reporter Janik Beichler attempted an interview in English a month later. Biechler reported a strange exchange in which Tryamkin twice refused to conduct the interview in English, despite previously agreeing to do so, and his tone seemed mildly hostile.
As Biechler concluded, “I don’t think Tryamkin is very interested in talking to #Canucks media right now,” and that could be an indication that some tension still remains.
Shortly after the terse exchange, Biechler was able to conduct an email interview with Tryamkin, in which the behemoth answered the question of whether he’d be interested in a return to Vancouver with the noncommittal “Why not?”
It’s far from a definitive statement, but it’s also an overall positive one, and it again shows that Tryamkin has left the door open to one day return.
Unfortunately, the rest of that Biechler interview hinted that Tryamkin may still have some concerns in regards to his usage in Vancouver. He doesn’t sound like he’s convinced that the issue of icetime was resolved by the firing of Desjardins, openly wondering “would I be needed?” when the time came for his potential return.
This was the most blunt Tryamkin had ever been about his problems with the Canucks, outright affirming that ““The lack of ice time is the reason I decided to leave the Canucks,” and adding, “I was a first-pairing D-man in Yekaterinburg this season, so I was pretty happy there.”
This sentiment was backed up by some statements made by agent Todd Diamond after the NHL Combine in June of 2018, who told Rick Dhaliwal that “I spoke…with the Canucks about Nikita and how we can approach it and maybe get ahead of it so everyone knows he is a valued person on the depth chart.”
It seems obvious that, at the very least, Tryamkin is still worried that a return to Vancouver would mean more time stapled to the bench, and that doesn’t appear to be something he is interested in.
Nikolay Goldobin is Tryamkin’s best friend on the Canucks, and it stands to reason that he’s the best local source on the likelihood of Nikita’s comeback. In an interview with Dhaliwal in July of 2018, Goldobin admitted that “I try to get him back to NHL but I don’t think it’s happening for a year or two.”
Canuck fans are aware that the earliest Tryamkin could return is 2020, so the “year or two” part of this statement shouldn’t bother them. The fact that Goldobin seems to believe Tryamkin will return when his contract concludes, however, has to be taken as the best evidence yet.
When Tryamkin left for the KHL, fans quickly noticed that both of his Twitter profile pictures remained as photos of him in a Canucks jersey. Most assumed that Nikita was just slow to update, but the pictures remain more than a year after his departure. Tryamkin isn’t the most active tweeter in the world, but he logs in a couple of times a month, and it stands to reason that he would have changed the pics by now if they really bothered him. This may seem frivolous, but it’s further evidence that Tryamkin doesn’t outright resent the Canucks organization, and that he doesn’t mind seeing himself in the blue-and-green.
That essentially represents the clearest conclusion that can be gleaned from this multitude of statements—although there is still some tension between Nikita Tryamkin and the Vancouver Canucks organization, he has clearly left the door open for a return in 2020. That being said, it’s also clear that unless the team can demonstrate a commitment to giving him a larger role on the blueline, he’s perfectly happy to stay in the KHL. So, Nikita—how does the top pairing with Quinn Hughes sound?