We might have some differing opinions you and I on Nikita Zaitsev. I can’t say that I’m a fan, and I’m even less of a fan of his contract. You might like him. Okay, cool. This post probably isn’t for you then. This post is for everyone who thinks Zaitsev tops out as a third pairing defender who is getting paid like a middle pairing guy and want him gone so the Leafs can start repairing the blueline.
Today I am extremely bored and decided to look at what a trade offer from every team would look like for Nikita Zaitsev. Ready? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ . Here we go.
The Offer: Korbinian Holzer and a pick
Why They Do It: Kevin Bieksa is departing and they have an opening for an overpriced bottom pairing RD. Additionally Zaitsev might help as a second power play unit quarterback.
Do They Do It: Absolutely not.
The Offer: Richard Panik and a pick
Why They Do It: Like the Ducks it would be a chance to jettison a bad former Leaf, but they’d also have a pretty legitimate right side of their blueline by bringing in Zaitsev to join Hjalmarsson and Demers. With Hjalmarsson’s contract up at the end of this season, Zaitsev is also a safety net.
Do They Do It: It’s possible. They certainly wouldn’t do it until Zaitsev’s signing bonus has been paid on July 1st. They end up saving money this season in that deal before having five more years of a much pricier Zaitsev. I wouldn’t rule it out though.
The Offer: David Backes for Nikita Zaitsev
Why They Do It: It’s a rough contract for rough contract deal. Getting out from under the Backes deal seems appealing for the Bruins, but honestly if I’m the Leafs I’d rather roll the dice on Zaitsev getting better.
Do They Do It: They probably don’t do it anyway. McAvoy, Miller, McQuaid, and Carlo is a pretty crowded right side.
The Offer: Matt Moulson and Jason Pominville for Nikita Zaitsev
Why They Do It: The Sabres would have a ton of flexibility to pull off whatever the hell they wanted this season while upgrading their blueline, somewhat. The Leafs on the other hand would be really helping the Sabres become a competitor in their division, but could use a couple veterans in limited roles for another playoff run.
Do They Do It: I can’t see this happening, but who could see the Phaneuf deal from a couple years back happening either. If I’m the Sabres I consider it, unless they are comfortable with waiting another year before making a playoff push. I’m not sure if the Leafs do this without some small incentive though.
The Offer: Either Michael Stone or Troy Brouwer for Zaitsev
Why They Do It: A chance to unload crap for a modest player upgrade with worse term
Do They Do It: I can’t imagine they do, but they are the team that employed Dennis Wideman.
The Offer: I know I said I’d do these for every team, but Hurricanes are a tough one. Maybe it’s more of a serious trade, and the Leafs offer up Garret Sparks, Jeremy Bracco (or better) and Zaitsev in order to land Justin Faulk
Why They Do It: They want to shuffle chairs on the Titanic, but at the same time they could use a goaltender to push Darling or steal his job. Bracco is likely wishful thinking on my part, and the Leafs would have to part with something more along the lines of their 1st or 2nd round pick.
Do They Do It: I wish. I really don’t know what to expect of the Canes right now, so I’d certainly sniff around Faulk and dangle Sparks as a potential piece in any deal.
The Offer: I don’t know if a change of scenery type deal for Connor Murphy is possible. Murphy is cheaper and on shorter term, but I don’t think he has the same upside as Zaitsev.
Why They Do It: They believe that Zaitsev has some upside over Murphy
Do They Do It: Nope. I think both teams would probably feel better trying to salvage what they have than admitting defeat by swapping these players for each other.
The Offer: It probably starts and ends with Carl Soderberg.
Why They Do It: They need defense, and help isn’t coming for a couple of years.
Do They Do It: It’s possible. I’m not sure where the Leafs try to fit Soderberg in, but he seems like a player that Babcock would try to adopt.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Offer: When you finally get rid of Jack Johnson, you definitely want to bring in his Russian counterpart, right? Let’s play this out anyway and say Dubinsky for Zaitsev
Why They Do It: Zaitsev is more useful than Dubinsky. I can’t imagine the Leafs do this.
Do They Do It: Can’t see this happening.
The Offer: You could either see the Leafs trying to get the last hockey out of Jason Spezza this season, in a Bozak replacement role OR you see Babcock lobbying for Martin Hanzal.
Why They Do It: They need warm bodies on their blueline. This comment is evergreen.
Do They Do It: They really should. They should probably even add to it because they stink of desperation to fix their back end.
Detroit Red Wings
The Offer: Let Babcock pooper scoop one of his boys like Abdelkader, Helm, or Glendening. He’ll be thrilled with Dubas.
Why They Do It: That blueline is a damned embarrassment. I know they won’t be competing anytime soon, but they should probably have one NHL caliber player there.
Do They Do It: If Detroit is seriously ready to bottom out they are better off with what they have. If they want to replace Mike Green this is their best option.
The Offer: Holy crap is it hard to imagine what Peter Chiarelli would give up for a right handed defenseman who has been playing in a top four situation. Throw in the fact that term is usually a plus in Edmonton, the Leafs could seriously look at a swap for Klefbom.
Why They Do It: Peter Chiarelli isn’t very good at his job.
Do They Do It: Looking at Chiarelli’s history with Russian players, I think this will remain a beautiful dream and nothing more.
The Offer: Damned if I can figure out what Dale Tallon values, so lets say the Leafs offer up Zaitsev and a 2nd to get Mark Pysyk.
Why They Do It: See above. Dale Tallon is a wild card. I’m giving them an asset in the form of a 2nd in order to get the defenseman I want and to save money.
Do They Do It: A good GM wouldn’t.
Los Angeles Kings
The Offer: Does Dion Phaneuf complete his journey back around to Toronto? No. Maybe they want to get younger and trade Alec Martinez to do it.
Why They Do It: To get younger
Do They Do It: Nope.
The Offer: Tyler Ennis
Why They Do It: They could stand to add one more defenseman to their mix and have the ability to shelter Zaitsev a little. Dumping Ennis for Zaitsev helps them in the very short term.
Do They Do It: New GM, but arguably a smart GM. This seems like too long a commitment for a team that has a history of making bad long term commitments. I’m going to say it’s not gonna happen.
The Offer: This is a train wreck. Right Defense is one of the few things that doesn’t need to be a priority for the Habs, but let’s assume they want to do this to save on the Weber deal and it’s Weber for Zaitsev straight up.
Why They Do It: Because Bergevin desperately wants to lose his job.
Do They Do It: Neither side wants this.
The Offer: Nick Bonino
Why They Do It: They can shelter Zaitsev and he’s an upgrade over Yannick Weber.
Do They Do It: Can’t see it.
New Jersey Devils
The Offer: Damon Severson. He’s really good, but they haven’t played him as much as they should. The organization seems to know he’s good though, and Devils fans certainly know this too. He’s also cheaper and has shorter term than Zaitsev, so to make this work I’m going to say Zaitsev, Bracco, and Leivo might be enough of a grab bag to make it work.
Why They Do It: They like Leivo and Bracco enough to overlook that Severson is better than Zaitsev.
Do They Do It: Probably not unless they like Bracco. In reality the deal here would either have to be something better than Bracco and Leivo as the kicker or it would have to be Zaitsev for Zajac.
New York Islanders
The Offer: Yucky. I have no idea. Maybe Johnny Boychuk, though that seems high risk for the Leafs. I’d probably want some salary retained. The other side of this is that Boychuk looks bad because the team around him was so bad, but that’s wishful thinking.
Why They Do It: Lou Lamoriello is the guy who signed Zaitsev. There’s a good chance he likes him and shedding a bit of salary on Boychuk sounds good too.
Do They Do It: Leafs are the team that needs to do some soul searching here. I can’t see this happening. Maybe Zaitsev and Martin for Boychuk.
New York Rangers
The Offer: Brendan Smith and probably some kind of incentive.
Why They Do It: They buried Brendan Smith in the minors.
Do They Do It: Depends on how long the Rangers are committed to rebuilding. I can’t see the Leafs just letting Zaitsev go for Smith. The Rangers have needs right across the board and they’ve got money to work with. I probably need to try harder here.
The Offer: Zack Smith and other goodies.
Why They Do It: This is a team that definitely needs to add to their blueline. Dumping Smith’s salary means Melnyk is still not spending a lot more. If they are in fact trading Karlsson, someone is going to need to play defense for them.
Do They Do It: Don’t even worry about that. I’d rather reflect on whether Zaitsev, Kapanen, and 2 firsts gets Karlsson into a Leafs uniform next season. Probably not.
The Offer: Sigh. Andrew MacDonald. Maybe with something small to make you feel better about trading for Andrew MacDonald
Why They Do It: Andrew MacDonald is bad, and while the Flyers defense is heading in the right direction, Zaitsev is an upgrade for now.
Do They Do It: I don’t think so. I don’t think other team really wants it. Flyers typically chase bigger names and by now it should be clear that there are teams out there that place a higher value on Zaitsev and would treat him as an asset. I don’t think the Flyers are one of those teams and can’t see this happening.
The Offer: Uhh…. I can’t really think of one. Let’s say they dump Hunwick back onto the Leafs and give the Leafs something okay-ish in addition.
Why They Do It: It’s tradition to find ways to upgrade the Penguins blueline without making it look that much better.
Do They Do It: It’s entirely possible. I don’t think it happens for Hunwick +, but I wouldn’t rule out the Penguins as a team that could be interested in Zaitsev. Admittedly, I find myself more and more inclined that keeping Zaitsev isn’t the worst possible outcome though, as it’s becoming painfully clear that he’s not the end of the world as an underwhelming 4/5D. By the time I get to the Canucks, my demands for Zaitsev will be through the roof.
San Jose Sharks
The Offer: Mikkel Boedker
Why They Do It: I don’t think they do unless they anticipate not being able to afford Justin Braun soon. Dumping Boedker has some appeal.
Do They Do It: I can’t see it happening.
St. Louis Blues
The Offer: This straight up isn’t happening, so lets get weird with it. Jake Allen and Colton Parayko for Freddy Andersen, Nikita Zaitsev, and a 1st.
Why They Do It: They really won’t, but upgrading their goaltender and getting a 1st is the only way I can make this look reasonable.
Do They Do It: Nope. Nope. Nope. Easier ways to find goaltending and 1st isn’t enough to make a team fall out of love with Parayko.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Offer: Ryan McDonagh for Zaitsev, Bracco, and a 1st.
Why They Do It: Take a look at the contracts that the Lightning have up next season. Kucherov, Stralman, Point, and Gourde. They’ll be dealing with Vasilevskiy and Sergachev the year after that. Zaitsev would be the only defenseman beyond Hedman that they’d have under contract, and maybe that’s appealing. McDonagh is also up for free agency next season and it seems that either he or Stralman will be the odd man out. Plus a 1st and Bracco isn’t a bad throw-in and helps recoup the cost of “renting” McDonagh from the Rangers.
Do They Do It: I’m a McDonagh fanboy and I want to believe they do. They probably don’t, but let me have this.
The Offer: Tanev for Zaitsev and a 2nd.
Why They Do It: The 2nd. I’d have to imagine that if a team was giving up a first for Tanev he’d be gone already, but his injury history makes that a tough pill to swallow for teams. Zaitsev gives the Canucks a serviceable defenseman who get the team through the rebuilding years.
Do They Do It: I’m probably still in wishful thinking mode, but it seems reasonable to me. I’ll have to revisit some of the early trade proposals when I was decidedly more pessimistic about dealing Zaitsev.
Vegas Golden Knights
The Offer: Oscar Lindberg and a decent pick or prospect
Why They Do It: They don’t have right handed defensemen, they don’t have any defenseman commited long term, and they’ve got a ton of cap space.
Do They Do It: I’d certainly consider it if I was George McPhee, although if they are in fact all-in on landing Erik Karlsson or want to overpay for John Carlson, the need for Zaitsev goes away very quickly.
The Offer: Lars Eller
Why They Do It: If they are losing John Carlson, I could see Nikita Zaitsev joining this Russian friendly environment.
Do They Do It: It all depends on John Carlson. Leafs would pick up a Bozak replacement in the process.
The Offer: Tyler Myers
Why They Do It: Talk about ending on a low note. The team with Byfuglien and Trouba isn’t prioritizing anything with RD. They do have Tyler Myers who has a $5.5M cap hit next season and they apparently want to unload that.
Do They Do It: Is $1.25M enough savings for next season? Is Winnipeg still worried about attracting free agents and thinks this is the best way to add? I think it’s a possibility, but given that Cheveldayoff doesn’t make a lot of trades, I wouldn’t hold my breath on him doing something like this.
What I’ve learned over the course of doing this is that Zaitsev probably needs to be considered an asset at this point instead of strictly a player on a bad contract that needs to be dumped. There are enough teams in the league that he could be a legitimate upgrade on, and there are enough teams that would see his term as a selling point and not a deterrent. He’s still not going to bring in much of a return, and the best asset the Leafs will get back will be cap flexibility, but there should be interest.
All of this being said, some facts remain and those are that Mike Babcock likes and uses Zaitsev a lot and right handed defensemen are the new NHL unicorn and giving one up before finding a replacement might not be a good call. I’d probably expect to see Zaitsev in a Leafs uniform next fall.