Soon-to-be former Maple Leafs defenceman Nikita Zaitsev put the organization and fan base on blast in an interview published in Russian a few weeks ago, even taking the opportunity to mix in a few hot jabs at polarizing commentator Don Cherry.
Zaitsev went in on several issues including what he feels was unfair, across-the-board criticism of the team’s D-corps, his usage by head coach Mike Babcock, and the amount of clout fossilized media figures like Cherry hold in the Toronto and Canadian hockey markets.
“I’m amused that clowns like Cherry have a very big emphasis in our country as real experts,” Zaitsev is quoted as saying. “(What he says) will immediately be on the websites, as if this is a serious person of some kind.”
Cherry had some choice words for Zaitsev on Coach’s Corner earlier this season, calling him out for his play in the first period of March 2 game against the Buffalo Sabres.
“I’m telling you, everybody’s on Muzzin… watch [Nikita] Zaitsev. He doesn’t know how to play. You know what he is? You know what Zaitsev is? He was minus last year, he was minus the year before, he was minus in the playoffs. You know what he is? He’s a forward playing defence. And somehow or other, Muzzin is the guy they’re blaming.
“Remember, Muzzin was the best player in L.A.,” Cherry continued. “He comes here and he’s having a tough time? He’s having a tough time because he’s playing with that guy. Zaitsev is not a defenceman.”
The 27-year-old, citing personal reasons, made his trade request public last week. Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas said the two sides are “working together” to find Zaitsev a new home as soon as possible.
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