When Eric Gryba dumped Nikolay Kulemin into the boards during last week’s overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers, observers feared the worst. Gryba was only given a two-minute minor, but the notoriously durable Kulemin headed off the ice hanging his arm and shoulder after a brief detour to the bench.
Turns out the worst is essentially what Kulemin got, as the Islanders announced today that their winger will be out for six months after successful surgery to the “upper body.”
The “good” news for Kulemin is that surgery was deemed “successful,” but the fact it was necessary — after the game, they scheduled an MRI and talked in pessimistic but non-specific terms about his prospects — puts him in a tough spot.
Kulemin is 31 and in the final year of a four-year contract. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer without any recent work to prove his health and worth for a new deal, barring the unlikely one-two of a speedier-than-normal recovery and a longer-than-normal Islanders playoff run.
Depth-wise, the Islanders can withstand the loss of a bottom-six winger and penalty killer better than injuries to other parts of the lineup. Kulemin’s impact at even strength has declined in recent years and the team should be able to find other contributors for his PK work. Injuries always create opportunities for others. (In fact, Joshua Ho-Sang is back on emergency conditions after Kulemin was placed on IR.)
But for the team’s and especially Kulemin’s spirit, it’s a blow. Now both our “Russian” Hipsters are felled by injury too soon.
Best of luck on a speedy, healthy recovery.