If Nikolay Goldobin were never a Canuck, the fanbase may never had anything to discuss these past two years. The controversial Russian winger has been a lightning rod for criticism due to inconsistent defensive performance and an arguably shoddy work ethic, while also demonstrating significant offensive potential and raw skill. All of these components were on full display throughout the 2018-19 campaign for Goldobin.
The season started off well for the 27-year-old winger. He was productive alongside Elias Pettersson, and appeared to be playing with a greater degree of urgency and pace. Perhaps, fans mused, ‘Goldy’ had finally arrived, and had become the scoring winger many thought he could be when he came to Vancouver in the Spring of 2017. This spurt, however, proved to be short lived. He quickly slowed down and finished the year with just seven goals and 27 points in 63 contests. Perhaps more concerningly, he had one of the worst primary points per 60 minutes rate of any Canucks forward, beating out just Tyler Motte, Brandon Sutter, and Jay Beagle amng regulars. It is certainly concerning that a guy known for offensive talent and flare was unable to put those skills to the test in any meaningful way. All that said, Goldobin’s deficiencies extended beyond his underwhelming offensive output — in fact, they may be the least of people’s concerns. Defensively, he has a tendency towards blatant errors, and can occassionally look out of place in his own zone. He also doesn’t play with an immediately visible level of tenacity, making him polarizing to viewers.
Of course, there is a more bullish case to make as well. He had the fourth best CorsiFor% of any regular forward (behind just Pettersson, Boeser, and Josh Leivo), as well as the fourth best Relative CorsiFor%. Those in the advanced stats community have advocated for an expanded role for Goldobin, claiming he has a degree of untapped potential. While there may be some merits to these proposals, the ultimately did not come to fruition last season, and it’s hard to see them becoming a reality if the top-line numbers continue to underwhelm.
The fundamental question remains what Goldobin’s future holds not just as a Canuck, but as an NHL player. Some have mused that he could find himself alongside Pettersson again, hoping to rekindle their aforementioned chemistry. If this is the path chosen, and it doesn’t work out, the future becomes even more blurry. His playing style doesn’t necessarily fit well in a bottom-six that will likely be more focused on checking and defending than filling the net, and he has rarely looked effective playing alongside Bo Horvat (therefore ruling out a second line spot). With this in mind, it would not be altogether surprising to see Goldobin perhaps sent to the minors or claimed off of waivers. It is also conceivable that he is moved out via trade, sent to a team more willing to take a chance on the winger.
It is never truly hockey season in Vancouver until the arguments about Goldobin — affectionately dubbed the ‘Goldy Wars’ — begin, and it appears as if the 2019-20 season will not be any different. While the starting point for Goldobin may be up in the air, one thing is clear: that this is truly a make-or-break season for the Russian, and he needs to make the most of it.