The Sens paid two draft picks to dump Nikita Zaitsev. How Does This Affect The Leafs?

Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Cam Lewis
1 year ago
Nikita Zaitsev’s time in Ottawa has come to an end.
He suited up for 203 games with the Senators over parts of four seasons and scored seven goals and 45 points and had an on-ice goal differential of 116-to-169.
The Senators have decided that they need to open up more salary cap room and Zaitsev is the one they’re sending out the door to do so. The Chicago Blackhawks will receive a second- and a fourth-round pick in exchange for doing Ottawa the favour of taking on the final season and a half of the seven-year, $31.5 million contract that Lou Lamoriello gave Zaitsev back in May of 2017.
Unless Future Considerations turns out surprisingly well, this closes the book on the six-player trade that the Sens made with the Leafs a few years ago. Toronto sent Zaitsev, Connor Brown, and minor-leaguer Michael Carcone to Ottawa in exchange for Cody Ceci, Ban Harpur, Aaron Luchuk, and a third-round pick. Carcone spent the 2019-20 season with the Sens’ AHL affiliate and left to join the Arizona Coyotes in the off-season and Brown had three good seasons with the Sens and left last summer to sign with the Washington Capitals.
Much like the Dion Phaneuf trade a few years earlier, this was always a puzzling move for the Sens. Zaitsev’s contract looked like an albatross shortly after Lou signed it and the Sens helped let the Leafs get out from under it. Toronto let Ceci and Harpur walk one year after making the trade and then they were completely off the hook for Zaitsev.
Anyway, that’s in the past, so let’s talk about the present.
The Sens are six points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with about a half dozen teams in front of them but general manager Pierre Dorion seems adamant about making a push. Elliotte Friedman noted back in January that the Sens have considered adding rentals because they “consider finishing as strong as possible very important to their young, core players and their market.”
I mean, hey, they were 24-23-10 at this time during the 2014-15 season, and then Andrew Hammond showed up and dragged them into the playoffs. Anything is possible!
From a Toronto perspective, this trade is interesting because it gives some insight into what it would cost for the Leafs to move Jake Muzzin’s contract in the off-season. Muzzin won’t play again this season and there’s a chance that he might never play a game in the NHL again.
Zaitsev has one more season after this one at a $4.5 million salary cap hit and he had a 10-team no-trade clause. Muzzin also has one more year left on his deal but a larger cap hit at $5.625 million. In terms of actual money being taken on, Muzzin will be paid a $2 million signing bonus on July 1 and then $2 million in salary during the 2023-24 season.
If Muzzin is able to return next season and the Leafs want to unload his contract over the summer, the Zaitsev trade given his similar contract offers an indication of what it’ll cost to do so. If Muzzin’s career is over and he winds up on the Long-Term Injured Reserve, it would cost much less to get a team to take on the contract.
Though we mostly like to look at the LTIR as Robidas Island where an injured player disappears forever and the team gets a salary cap bonus, it isn’t actually that simple. If it only costs them a mid-to-late round pick, the Leafs could opt to move Muzzin’s contract in the off-season in order to avoid getting into issues with the Long-Term Injured Reserve, performance bonuses, and overages.

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