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Photo Credit: © John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Leafs sign Nikita Zaitsev to a 7-year, 31.5 million dollar contract extension

The Toronto Maple Leafs announced early Tuesday afternoon that the team inked defenceman Nikita Zaitsev to a 7-year, 31.5 million dollar contract extension.

The extension was announced only 1 year after Zaitsev joined the Leafs out of the KHL, signing a 1 year, 1.775 million dollar contract for the 2016-17 season.  Zaitsev’s extension averages out at 4.5 million AAV, and will include around 11 million in signing bonuses, as reported by The Athletic. The Athletic also reports that the contract includes a limited NTC, beginning on July 1st, 2019.

Zaitsev had a fairly good rookie season for the Leafs, tallying 4 goals and 32 assists through 82 games.  He managed to stay healthy for the duration of the regular season, but was sidelined for 2 games in the playoffs due to injury.  When he did play, Zaitsev seemed off, and this is likely due to a concussion suffered at the end of the regular season.

The term on this deal is the most questionable aspect of Zaitsev’s extension.  He was an important part of the Leafs defense this season, but it is hard to justify giving a 7-year contract extension to a rookie (mind you, a 25-year-old rookie) who is not a part of a team’s core group of players.

Many were quick to point out that Zaitsev’s extension goes far beyond his prime.  He’s signed until the age of 32, and will likely see some regression in terms of play before the contract extension runs out.

One final note about this contract:

Very interesting.

More details to come.

  • m@

    Agreeing with Don Cherry… I think that’s a new one for TLN.

    All I can say is Babs loves his rigt shot defenseman. He obviously loves the guy… appeared to single him out in pressers regularly durine the season. I can swallow 4.5…

    And to your point: “but it is hard to justify giving a 7-year contract extension to a rookie (mind you, a 25-year-old rookie) who is not a part of a team’s core group of players”.

    He’s a part of the core now….

    • The Russian Rocket

      I agree with your assessment. You don’t commit $31 Million over 7 years to a non-core player. Especially considering there was no hype or pressure. This wasn’t a big trade or free agent signing like Backes (BOS) and Erikson (VAN). This was found talent in the KHL. They clearly feel like he was a key member of the core this year.

      • Kanuunankuula

        Is he a part of the core though? I don’t think so. He’s by far the easiest to replace. And here we are, he’s under contract for the longest time, yet is a #3 on this team. The term is steep, and there’s no denying that. I guess the hope is they can get him to leave to Russia for the last few years if he declines. I just feel this (like Martin’s contract) is unnecessary. You’re giving term to players that don’t require it. Zaitsev has pretty much no leverage. He’s an RFA and “he’ll bolt to KHL” is a pretty lame excuse too, he’s not getting that much there either.

        • The Russian Rocket

          What do you mean by easiest to replace? He’s a first pairing RHD that dealt with some of the toughest competition in the NHL. The dude is a second pair RHD at worst, who quarterbacked one of the league’s best powerplays.

          • Kanuunankuula

            Meaning Rielly and Gardiner are better and tougher to replace. Zaitsev is good, but nothing that special. I’d also like to remind you that Zaitsev & Rielly were not exactly dynamite together. 1st pair is debatable, I’d say second pairing for now. Zaitsev was also not on the PP for the whole year (at least not the first unit)

          • The Russian Rocket

            Kanuunankuula, I’ll agree that Rielly and Gardiner are better but because they’re LHD they’re going to be easier to replace. A year or two ago Morgan Rielly was “hard to replace” until Jake Gardiner hit his stride. When Rielly went down this year he stepped into the top pairing minutes and the Leafs soldiered on. In the AHL we have Dermott and Nielsen in line to potentially replace Rielly or Gardiner. For #1 RHD we have no one in line except Carrick. For me, that’s why Zaitsev is in the core. That and I think he’s a very good d-man.

    • MartinPolak

      You say it like agreeing with Cherry is a bad thing. jeffler and his team have owned up when they were wrong about players (polak, hunwick etc). sometimes they are slow to come around but I agree with both cherry and tln here.

  • TooncesYaBoy

    Don’t have that much of a problem with the signing if there is no real regression after this year. Just seems a little scary to give a guy this kind of contract with such a small sample size especially if its true he was playing through a concussion and any effects that might linger, but it’s nearly identical to Klingberg’s contract. Only part I disagree with is the note about this being after Zaitsev’s prime. There’s plenty of Top 4 defensemen over 30 still making contributions, the average age of most defencemen skews past that peak and it’s not like Zaitsev makes his money off his athletics, so I’d imagine he’ll still be providing some value and 4.5M is low enough that you could move him if you need to down the road but I don’t think what makes him valuable to the Leafs will slide that hard over 7 years that it becomes an albatross contract.

    • Gary Empey

      Re- “small sample size”….The Leafs have been scouted this guy for a few years. They watched him become an all-star in the KHL…They watched Zaitsev voted best defenceman in last year’s IIHF World Championships. They watched how he handled his first year in the NHL. I believe Leaf management know exactly what they got.

      • lukewarmwater

        Gary as usual you astutely point out what this 25 year old’s track record is. Now he will average 4.5 million per year playing in the top three. He had a solid first season in the N.H.L. I think you like me are soooooo tired of people worrying about the money that M.L.S.E. will spend on this talented defenceman. This is no David Clarkson or Canucklehead Louis Erickson signing. This is a defencemen in his prime. Wake up people SMELL THE COFFEE. As others have pointed out even if he produced for just 5 years at that salary, it is a hell of a deal. Let us not forget that the Canuckleheads just lost their over sized defenceman back to the K.H.L. Sad to see poor old Don Cherry still have Harold Ballarditis and a hate on of Russian players.

        • Gary Empey

          Leaf Nation seem to have the same two complaints regarding a lot of Shanahan’s/Lamoriello’s signings. Babcock, Martin, Andersen, Zaitsev all came with too much term and too high a salary. Without Babcock, Martin, Andersen, and Zaitsev does anyone really think we would have made the playoffs this year? Regarding top four 25 year old defencemen, what do they think is the going price for one, if you can talk anyone into parting with one? A young, top ten scoring forward like Taylor Hall gets you one. The same crowd seems willing to pay high for a 38 year old, coming off major knee surgery like Thornton. They feel Cody Franson is an obvious off-season target. They believe signing a 34 year old Ilya Kovalchuk would be a huge add to an already stacked forward core. Then you have fans so out of sync with Leaf management, like “Kanuunankuula” who don’t think Zaitsev is even part of the core.

  • FlareKnight

    I think it’s fine. Not a huge number and if the Leafs want to keep the guy around I don’t have a problem with that.

    We’ve known for weeks this is the deal they were signing. Clearly they feel he’s a core part of the blueline going forward. This isn’t a guy we’ve got control over for 5+ years. They only had so much time to make a call on Zaitsev before he could simply go anywhere in the NHL or back to the KHL.

    Good job getting a guy who is at least a top 4 D on this team going forward locked up. Now can move on to other things.

  • Gary Empey

    A great cap friendly signing by Lamoriello. As Lou says if it is a player you want, the money and term are secondary. If we could sign another player of this caliber for the exact same terms it would be would all be happy. Whoever said defencemen peak at 24 years of age is out of their frigging mind…..

    • Gary Empey

      If you are not going to pay at least fair market value I don’t see how you can have a team that amounts to much. Zaitsev’s agent knows his value. If the Leafs are not prepared to meet it then there is no shortage of NHL teams looking for D and willing to over pay for it.

  • liamo

    This is alright, in the context of the over all defence Gardiner has 4×2 left on his deal 2 and will be 27 next season. Rielly has 5×4 left and is turning 23 next year. Now Zaitsev 4.5 by 7, so overall that’s 13.5m on 3 good Defenceman that’s not bad. They’re all tradeable and on the whole they’re fair value, they hope is 1 or more them starts playing above their worth then the value rolls in. If they don’t it’s not damaging and I think they can be traded. So there’s flexibility in there.