So we’ve talked about trading Zaitsev for a long time on this site, but sure, as soon as someone with a $40 haircut says it you start paying attention.
After a difficult season, TOR and Nikita Zaitsev are working together to find him a fresh start. He is available and we will see where it goes.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) May 30, 2019
Update: Bob McKenzie has some additional insight:
It was Nikita Zaitsev who, for personal reasons, asked TOR today to try to facilitate a trade. He has five years remaining on a contract with an AAV of $4.5M. TOR will try to oblige Zaitsev but are not in a salary cap position to retain much, if any, salary.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) May 30, 2019
Here’s hoping something can be worked out.
Update 2: The return of Uncle Bob’s tweets
Since the league was made aware this morning of Zaitsev’s availability, there have been multiple inquiries but it remains to be seen how many teams expect TOR to retain salary or make a soft/limited return deal because of the term/$ owed him.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) May 30, 2019
Yeah, it’s pretty much going to happen. We just might not like it as much as we think we would.
This isn’t the first time trading Zaitsev has come up. Chris Johnston was reporting that Kyle Dubas was trying to get something done at the trade deadline. There was speculation on this last summer as well, but so far no progress. The fact that the Leafs are in a bit more of dire cap situation and have players they’d prefer to keep over Zaitsev is likely going to force their hand a little more, and if they were expecting a higher return before, maybe the price has dropped.
It was another year of failed stretch passes and declining offense for Zaitsev that didn’t endear him to anyone who wasn’t focused entirely on his xGA/60 Rel TM. Of course, that might be a little too harsh on Nikita. For all of his faults, he was one of the better Leafs defensemen playing down low in his zone, and when given a tough assignment against Boston, he handled the task admirably, at least for the early part of the series.
One of the things I admit to appreciating the most about Zaitsev is the fact that he seems to be an ideal matchup for Brad Marchand. Zaitsev seems to have Marchand figured out, and it seems that the language barrier is helping with dealing with Marchand’s potty mouth. Having a defenseman who isn’t easily provoked by Marchand is probably a strategy that other teams should look at mirroring.
Anyway, the point is that Zaitsev hasn’t been bad. He hasn’t lived up to his contract, and the amount of term remaining has us less than thrilled, but he’s not a bad player and there could be a market for him.
What teams make up that market? Heck, I’ve speculated on that in the past too…
Dallas– This is a team so desperate for right handed defenseman that they’ve picked up the other crap that the Leafs have dumped on the market in Connor Carrick and Roman Polak. It seems reasonable to assume that they’ve sworn off Toronto defensmen at this point, but with significant shortcomings beyond Klingberg and Heiskanen, Zaitsev may be fit.
Chicago– Heck, they took a chance on Connor Murphy being good, maybe they have an equally bad blindspot towards Zaitsev. We are slowly approaching the era in which Chicago won’t have their old cap challenges, and with Seabrook and Murphy being the two guys on the right side right now, Zaitsev is most definitely an upgrade.
New Jersey– This blueline is straight up terrifying and shuffling deck chairs seems like a reasonable approach for them. Everything about Zaitsev also seems to scream, Devils defenseman.
Florida– Dale Tallon is hockey’s wild card, and pretty much every ridiculous scenario involving a Zaitsev trade seems like there’s a potential connection to Florida in the process.
NY Islanders– This is pretty much just hoping that Lamoriello likes Zaitsev as much as he did when he signed him.
That was looking at the league at the deadline, and we now live in a world where the Devils are picking first and I’ve come to appreciate how good Esa Lindell is in Dallas.
Depending on what the Leafs are willing to do in regards to salary retention or if they are potentially looking at taking a player in return equally in need of a change of scenery the deal seems a lot more realistic to complete, but if there is one thing I’ve learned from following this sport for over three decades it’s that there will always be a GM who overvalues a minute eating defenseman who plays a lot of time on the penalty kill.
Here’s hoping things work out for Zaitsev, who probably deserves better than what I’ve offered up about him in the past. That still doesn’t mean that I’d prefer he stays in the Atlantic division though.