Unfortunately, the Toronto Maple Leafs might be stuck with Nikita Zaitsev.
While the title of this post might sound like a Big Bang Theory episode title, this post has nothing to do with Sheldon Cooper and/or Leonard Hofstadter.
Instead, we’ll take a look at Zaitsev and his abysmal play for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
At this point in the regular season, Zaitsev has 3 assists, 20:30 average time on ice, 88 blocks, 59 hits, 3 take-aways, 41 give-aways and a 48.1 corsi-for percentage (CF%). While his statistics aren’t horrible, they aren’t great. His CF% has slightly improved from last season, but he’s seeing less ice time. In addition, he’s giving the puck away way too much. It’s ironic that a lot of Toronto Maple Leafs fans give Jake Gardiner a lot of hate for giving up the puck when Zaitsev has more give-aways than Gardiner this season.
Dumping The Puck Non-Stop
Not only is Zaitsev giving up the puck too much, but he doesn’t help drive the puck up the ice. He’s too timid when it comes to puck control. When he has the puck, he tries to get rid of it rather quickly. Instead of making a smart pass, it seems that Zaitsev has a reflex to just dump the puck alongside the boards. The only time where Zaitsev’s insistent dumping the puck is useful is on the penalty kill. Unfortunately, it seems that Zaitsev thinks that the Toronto Maple Leafs are always a man down as almost every single time that Zaitsev touches the puck it gets dumped down the ice.
In terms of his performance in the offensive zone, Zaitsev has been absolutely dreadful. If you look at the below tweet from Kyle Cushman (@Kyle_Cush) from FanSided’s Editor In Leaf, Zaitsev is projected to have 6 points at the end of the season. Six points. That’s a career low and is a significant drop from two seasons ago where Zaitsev had 4 goals and 32 assists.
At the half way mark, here are the #Leafs season projected totals if everyone stays healthy (obviously will not happen).
– Lots of green
– Leafs are on pace for their first season with two 50 goal scorers
– Marner and Kapanen negotiations should be fun pic.twitter.com/cAyfsONJKK
— Kyle Cushman (@Kyle_Cush) January 6, 2019
Zaitsev And His Ugly Contract
Unfortunately, the Toronto Maple Leafs are stuck with Zaitsev for the next six years. Adding to the fire, Zaitsev carries a 4.5 million USD cap hit and has a modified no-trade-clause (NTC) that begins next season. With his modified no-trade clause, Zaitsev will be able to submit a list of ten teams that he doesn’t want to be traded to.
With his NTC kicking in on July 1st, Kyle Dubas, the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs has till the trade deadline to trade Zaitsev.
The problem is Dubas will have a challenge as he’ll have to find a team that is willing to take on Zaitsev and his contract.
At this very moment, the teams that could afford to take on his contract would be the Carolina Hurricanes or the New Jersey Devils. If I were Dubas, I would try to negotiate a trade with the Hurricanes. Perhaps, Dubas could attempt to trade for Toronto native, Dougie Hamilton, who is reportedly on the trade market. While Hamilton has some off-ice issues, perhaps being closer to home would be a good thing for the 25 year old defenseman.
In exchange, the Toronto Maple Leafs could part ways with Zaitsev, their first round pick, Connor Brown, Andreas Johnsson and Timothy Liljegren. It’s a similar trade offer to what James Tanner of Editor in Leaf suggested in his post, Toronto Maple Leafs: Dougie Hamilton Rumours. But, in my offer, I added Brown to make taking Zaitsev more attractive and I would prefer to offer Johnsson over Kasperi Kapanen (Tanner mentioned Kapanen in his trade proposal). Worst case if the Hurricanes would prefer Kapanen, you can always plug him into the offer.
While this might seem steep, the Toronto Maple Leafs will have to pay quite a bit to add a defenseman like Hamilton.
If the Leafs can pull it off, they’ll fill a void on the right side and Hamilton will be a great fit alongside Morgan Rielly or Gardiner.
stats from hockey-reference.com and NHL.com
featured image photo credit – Josh Tessler