The time has come to talk about one of the Toronto Maple Leafs (many) hated defensemen. In the hot seat today – Nikita Zaitsev, a 27-year old who was blessed with a seven year, $31.5 million contract by ex-General Manager Lou Lamoriello.
The contract would have been fair for the right-handed defenseman that the Leafs thought they were getting. Unfortunately, Zaitsev’s attempt to live up to the deal over the past three seasons has fallen very short.
On May 2, 2017, the Nikita Zaitsev experiment began. Flying high on his first National Hockey League contract, the Russian defenseman entered the 2016-17 season burdened by high expectations. Rightfully so, considering the value of his deal.
Fast forward to today.
Nikita Zaitsev has recorded 63 points in 223 games with Toronto. He averages 71 giveaways per season, and just over 21 minutes on ice per game.
Zaitsev’s career Corsi For % sits at 48.8 (-3.3 relative Corsi For %). His Fenwick For % is also sub par, sitting at 47.1 (-3.9 relative Fenwick For %). This means the Toronto Maple Leafs are not controlling the puck more often than their opponent when he is on the ice.
In other words:
However, the main issue with Zaitsev isn’t his slightly below average stats. It’s his contract. Giving him $4.5 million per year just doesn’t make sense, it never has. If possible, it needs to be dumped. If not, GM Kyle Dubas and the Toronto Maple leafs will be stuck with him for another five seasons.
Easier said than done.
Fortunately, Zaitsev had a solid 2018-19 playoff campaign that may have increased his trade value. Dealing the overpriced defenseman would likely force the Leafs to absorb an ugly contract from the opposing team, hopefully one worth less than $4.5 million per year.
Possible Destinations: Nikita Zaitsev
New York Islanders: GM Lou Lamoriello is Nikita Zaitsev’s biggest fan. It’s a long shot, but maybe he’ll be willing to absorb the contract he gave to Zaitsev three years ago.
Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers have plenty of unappealing contracts they could dump in return for Zaitsev. The Leafs Nation writer Cam Lewis threw Kris Russel and his $4 million AAV on the table as a potential return.
The above projections, while unlikely, are options that need to be explored. Toronto is in a cap crunch, and contracts must be dumped.
We don’t hate Nikita Zaitsev. We just hate his contract.