Don’t expect much in the Zaitsev trade

Yesterday it was made known that the Leafs and Nikita Zaitsev were looking to make a clean split. After back-to-back nightmare seasons (especially offensively) for Zaitsev, and with a limited no-trade clause set to kick in a month from now, the timing of this isn’t all that surprising. I mean, the Leafs don’t let much get outside their cone of silence these days, but it’s been a badly-kept secret that they’ve at least gauged trade interest for the defenceman since last summer due to his problematic contract that Lou Lamoriello put together.

The only thing that’s changed is that now Zaitsev also wants to end this relationship, and with that will come a very public trade negotiation process.

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It’s likely we’ll hear a lot about this in the coming days, especially if a bit of a market starts to form. But don’t let the mention of multiple inquiries get your hopes up about Toronto getting a strong return for Zaitsev; This return is going to be paltry.

And that’s fine.

There’s little doubt that the Leafs are going into this trying to get back as much asset-wise as possible, but underlying all of this is their need for cap space to do other things. They don’t want money back and they don’t want to retain. Toronto is staring down five more seasons of Zaitsev’s contract carrying an AAV of $4.5-million, so if it comes down to them needing to hold onto some of that cap hit in order to get better futures, I think they’ll go the other way. For the sake of spitballing, in order to get clear of this contract completely, dealing Zaitsev for a late-round pick would be a win.

There’s also the matter of a signing bonus owed to Zaitsev sometime after July 1st, to the tune of $3-million. Because the Leafs are loaded with cash it’s probably assumed they’ll pick that up in order to facilitate a better trade, but who knows. With the Marner deal still the top priority and a lot of work to be done on Kapanen and Johnsson, the Leafs might be eager to move on now, even if they work out something before the calendar officially flips over to “next season” on July 1st and make it official after. I half expect them to move quick on this, especially considering how the reports from McKenzie and Friedman spilled out yesterday.

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The bottom line is the Leafs should be more than happy to simply hit the reset button here and get out from under this money – that Zaitsev is also pushing for it is almost a blessing. They’ll have to fill his minutes but it wasn’t like he was playing them well anyway. Some of the notable targets Toronto has been linked to, like Colin Miller, would likely be able to fill that role better and for less. For all those reasons, don’t expect the Leafs to get more than a pick or middling prospect back in return for Zaitsev, especially if they don’t retain a dollar. For where this team is currently, it’s the money clear-out that’s the real prize.


Read also: Should the Canucks trade for Nikita Zaitsev?

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  • Brandon

    He’s a great skater with a decent shot. I wonder if he looks weak on the Leafs because he’s a bad fit for the system and will do okay somewhere else. It’ll be interesting to see.

    • Habsuck

      Brandon you are exactly right. He actually is a decent Dman that will probably do alright on another team when given the opportunity to excel in a different role that takes advantage of his strengths. Ryan is wrong, they will get more than a late draft pick, that is just a real dumb and lazy take. The media is evil, especially in Toronto. They just stir the pot, as all they care about is attention for themselves and most of the time just make up crap in order to do so. One of the reasons being reported is he is leaving because of the media. That is exactly why a lot of players do not want to come here to play as they know the media is a joke and they (media) don’t like facts, just their opinion which is worthless! There are a few good reporters left, but not many that actually have facts. Bottom line is they will get more than what this author is saying, you can take that to the bank!