As the calendar is about to turn to June, the NHL rumours and news are starting to come out fast and furiously.
Yesterday, Sportsnet Elliotte Friedman reported that the Toronto Maple Leafs and Nikita Zaitsev would look at getting a fresh start for the Russian defenceman:
After a difficult season, TOR and Nikita Zaitsev are working together to find him a fresh start. He is available and we will see where it goes.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) May 30, 2019
So, naturally, the question is – “Should the Canucks be interested?”
And the answer to that is quite simple, no. The Canucks should not trade for the defenceman for a couple of reasons. Simply put he isn’t going to be a difference maker in any way for the Canucks
Zaitsev bleeds shots and chances against while not creating an offence or drawing any penalities. According to Evolving-hockey.com, his wins-above-replacement last season was -0.5, which ranked last on the Leafs and his games-above-replacement was -2.8, which again was last on Toronto. For comparison sake, Erik Gudbranson had a -3.6 GAR and -0.6 WAR with the Canucks last season.
Furthermore, Zaitsev has five more years left on his contract that will come with a cap hit of $4.5M per season. That is a heavy contract that doesn’t generate much offence, gets buried in shot-share, and doesn’t particularly play a physical game.
The Canucks were able to get out from the Erik Gudbranson contract this past deadline and acquiring Zaitsev would just give them a similar player with more term. Zaitsev had a very good rookie season in the NHL, which earned him this long deal, but has trended downwards since and it’s fair to believe that he won’t right the ship any time soon.
There have been suggestions that if the Leafs are going to add a player like Andreas Johnsson or Kasperi Kapanen to a Zaitsev deal, that it would make sense for the Canucks. Even with one of those players added, there negative value and cap weight of Zaitsev likely won’t be overridden by the benefit of the add-in. Add the fact that the Leafs could probably move Zaitsev to another team for a deal with a neutral or only slightly negative value.
The Canucks will need to make additions to their backend over the next six weeks but they have to be extremely careful in who they add. We’ve seen that there will be a multitude of players coming available and thus the Canucks should not subject themselves to the thought of even discussing acquiring Zaitsev.