With the Stanley Cup in the clutches of the St. Louis Blues, transaction season is free to commence. And TSN’s Darren Dreger is here to get the ball rolling.
Dreger mentions the Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers as potential suitors for disgruntled Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Nikita Zaitsev, with talks expected to “heat up” before next Friday’s NHL Draft.
Toronto confirmed that Zaitsev did indeed issue a trade request after another tough season with the Maple Leafs. Though his performance improved, particularly in the postseason, Zaitsev preferred a “fresh start” with five years remaining on a contract signed two summers ago.
He may have pointed to sources of his frustration in an interview with a Russian outlet, which was translated for the Toronto market just a few days before his request was confirmed by Leafs management.
A right-shot defender capable of eating top-four minutes on a cost-controlled contract, Zaitsev figures to be able to help either the Canucks or Oilers should he indeed be dealt.
By the same token, the Leafs won’t be terribly disappointed to lose Zaitsev, even if the value received in return is perceived to be disproportionate. Though he’s displayed effectiveness in glimpses, and even shown it in large stretches dating back to his rookie season, Zaitsev failed to live up to the expectations tied to his $4.5 million since signing his seven-year contract with the Leafs. That’s a problem for any team facing a salary cap crunch.
Potentially dealing from an area of weakness, a trade involving Zaitsev will leave the Leafs without a single established right-shot defenseman on the roster.
To remedy the right side, however, was always going to be significant lift, and getting out from underneath a pricey contract will help Leafs GM Kyle Dubas accomplish that in both the short term and beyond.
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