The following was reported by Igor Eronko of Sport-Express this afternoon:
CSKA prez told @champ_hockey they will try to sign Marchenko, Grigorenko, Lyubimov & Zaitsev. 3 pending RFA, Marchenko RFA in 2018
— Igor Eronko (@IgorEronko) April 5, 2017
It appears that CSKA Moscow plans to use the news that the NHL will not send its players to the Olympics to draw Russian talent home, including the two Leafs’ defensemen.
With 36 points in 79 games, and an estimated Goals Above Replacement this season of 4.54, Zaitsev is a critical asset that the Leafs will undoubtedly war with CSKA over (heh, get it? WAR?).
Marchenko on the other hand is much more of a depth defenseman. Losing that depth would certainly be a loss, but given that Marchenko is a negative Goals Above Replacement player himself at -0.328, and he hasn’t been in the Leafs’ lineup since March 25th due to Connor Carrick returning to the lineup, it wouldn’t be a critical one. He joined the Leafs as a waiver claim and hasn’t been able to earn a spot over Carrick and Polak and finds himself as the Leafs’ 7th or 8th defenseman.
The rumours of Zaitsev’s 7-year contract extension suddenly begin to make more sense, as top 4 right handed defensemen don’t fall from trees in this league. The Leafs are likely willing to go to pretty great lengths to keep Zaitsev in Toronto, and it would be hard to argue against that.
It will be interesting to see just what CSKA is able to do with the financial freedom of no salary cap, a team that is constantly at the top of the standings, and full allowance of its players to attend the 2018 Olympics in Pyoengchang, South Korea.