At the beginning of the 2018/19 KHL season, Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg announced that the 24-year-old Nikita Tryamkin would be taking over as team captain. It was a presumably happy day for the defenseman-in-exile, but the news was considerably less well-received by the fanbase of the Vancouver Canucks. Many fans assumed that Avtomobilist making such a clear demonstration of their dedication to Tryamkin might inspire some reciprocal loyalty on his part, and that could lead to Tryamkin extending his KHL contract beyond its 2020 expiry date. It was far from definitive evidence but, on the whole, his earning of the captaincy made it seem less likely that he would ever return to Vancouver—but since then, the situation between Tryamkin and Yekaterinburg has changed in a rather dramatic fashion.
21 games into the KHL season, Avtomobilist is off to an amazing start, with a record of 20-1-0. Unfortunately, Nikita Tryamkin has not been a large part of that success. Last year, Tryamkin put up 25 points in 51 games and was the team’s clear number one defenseman, but his production has decreased dramatically to just three points in 17 games. Tryamkin’s icetime has also dropped significantly from last season, and he’s even found himself a healthy scratch on four occasions. Unfortunately, the on-ice portion of the game isn’t the only one in which Tryamkin has disappointed, either.
In what has to be considered a controversial move, Tryamkin was recently stripped of the Yekaterinburg captaincy by head coach Andrei Martmyanov—just over a month after Tryamkin was given it. Tryamkin was replaced as captain by pro hockey veteran Nigel Dawes, the team’s leading scorer. Overall, Dawes seems like a logical choice as leader and it wouldn’t be all that surprising if he had been chosen as captain from the get-go, but that’s not what happened. Clearly, something in the relationship between Tryamkin and his coaching staff has changed—to the point that, in September, they considered him the best candidate to wear the “C”—and a better candidate than Dawes—yet, in October, he’s suddenly fighting for a roster spot.
Information on the comings-and-goings of KHL franchises can be hard to come by, but Martmyanov did give a Russian-language interview with Sport-Express in which he briefly touched on the subject. In what could be gleaned from a rough translation of the article, Martmyanov shared his thoughts on why Tryamkin “was deprived of the captain’s patch.”
“I think this is generally an internal affair of the team. Still, Dawes is the leader. He is a more experienced person. Nikita – we had a conversation with him – I need to think more about the game. For the match with Spartak… almost no complaints. [Tryamkin] will ripen – will be the captain.”
Digging further into Martmyanov’s comments, one gets the picture that the coach is not happy with the defensive mistakes that seem to still be plaguing Tryamkin—and perhaps his compete level—as he notes:
“Pleased with the result, but not the content of the match. We had an expressionless match. We will understand why. Such things need to be removed. The guys warned that to go to the leading positions is very difficult…It is necessary to make an amendment in their actions. Answer for them.”
It seems that, for the time being, Nikita Tryamkin is answering for his actions with a dramatically-lessened role on the team. Given that the majority of Tryamkin’s issues in Vancouver seemed to stem from his undefined role on the team, one can’t help but notice the similarities. If Tryamkin is experiencing the same problems in Yekaterinburg that he was in Vancouver, it might make it more likely that he gives the NHL another shot.
Or, he could come storming back, reacquire the captaincy, lead Avtomobilist to a championship, and never even think about leaving Russia again. Really, who’s to say?