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What it might take to sign Nikita Zadorov and if it makes sense for the Canucks

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Tyson Cole
30 days ago
The Vancouver Canucks’ upper management group is going to have their hands full this summer as they have nine unrestricted free agents (UFA) after this season. 
I’ll be doing a series moving forward diving deep into the Canucks’ UFA’s, their player comparables, project how much they’re going to cost, and if bringing them back is a smart move for the future of the Canucks. 
With the recent news, or lack thereof, about how there have been no contract talks between the Canucks and Nikita Zadorov — who better to kick this series off with than the massive Russian defenceman.

How is Nikita Zadorov as a fit on the Canucks?

Nikita Zadorov was made available early this season by the Calgary Flames as he’s in the final year of his two-year, $7.5M contract. The Canucks traded a set of picks in exchange for the defenceman, a 3rd round pick in 2026 and a 5th round pick in 2024. 
Since the trade to Vancouver, he has transitioned over nicely. Zadorov has spent most of his time playing alongside Tyler Myers and Noah Juulsen. 
Here are Zadorov’s numbers with all five defensive partners.
*All stats are at 5-on-5.
Seeing that Zadorov is a plus rating with all five defensive pairings proves that he has been a great fit with this Canucks team. It also shows that he’s a versatile defenceman, and his production doesn’t slouch no matter who he plays with. 
Now, it may be concerning to see he’s on the wrong side of 50% when it comes to expected goals for (xGF%) and scoring chances for (SCF%). But it’s important to take into account that the Canucks lead the league in time spent with the lead and by over 150 minutes. 
This means that Vancouver would typically spend extra time in their zone as the opposing teams try to equalize the game, which would, in turn, allow for more expected goals and scoring chances. 
Now being able to put the numbers behind the visual test to prove that Zadorov has been a fit for the Canucks, how much is he going to cost?

How Much Will Zadorov Cost?

Frank Seravalli first reported in January that Zadorov was looking for a $5M by five-year type of contract extension.
The salary cap is projected to move from $83.5M to $87.7M next season. Using the new salary cap, the Canucks would have $30.575M in available cap space for next season. Looking at all of this cap space, they certainly have the room to bring back Zadorov, but with nine unrestricted free agents and three restricted free agents, they have to weigh out all of their options.
A clear indicator of a player’s value is to look at their individual numbers and compare them to what other defencemen of their stature are making. 
Before looking into Zadorov’s comparables, one must determine what type of player he is. While Canucks fans can judge the kind of player he is, why not hear from the General Manager on what he thinks Nikita Zadorov brings as a defenceman. 
When Patrik Allvin was asked if Zadorov would be a long-term interest for the Canucks, Allvin said, “Yeah, I think he’s unique in terms of size and ability to move in today’s game and bring the hardness and a little bit of attitude and character to the back end.”
Hearing the General Manager highlight his size, skating ability, and the toughness he brings to the back end as to why Zadorov was the Canucks target, it only makes sense to evaluate him based on these metrics.
I’ve analyzed and compared Zadorov’s stats and analytics this season to 10 others that fit the same description that Allvin gave to help gauge what his upcoming contract should look like.
*Players are ranked based on their average annual value.
Let’s first look into the qualities Allvin mentioned: his height, skating ability and toughness in terms of hits and penalty minutes. 
Zadorov is the third tallest of the bunch, sitting at 6’6. Considering his height when looking at his skating speed, ranking in the 91st percentile across the entire league, shows the incredible speed from the big man. 
The toughness shows in his hits and penalty minutes. Zadorov is fifth in this group in hits per 60 minutes and top 20 in the league in total hits. The 6’6 defenseman is a bully when he’s on the ice, leading this group in penalty minutes per 60 and ranks in the top 6 in penalty minutes per 60.
Analytically, Zadorov provides his team with the highest percentage of high-danger scoring chances (HDCF%) when he’s on the ice compared to any of the listed defencemen help their team when they’re on the ice. Additionally, Zadorov ranks in the top five in the other two important analytical metrics, xGF% & SCF%.
Taking all of this into account, let’s get into the numbers.
Now, it’s no surprise that Zadorov is in line for a raise on his $3.75M contract — it’s just how high are the Canucks willing to go?
Zadorov brings a snarl to the back end and can be considered a bodyguard who can scare off opposing team’s instigators from going after stars like Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, etc. A player like this is something the Canucks haven’t had since 2015-2016, when Derek Dorsett had 177 penalty minutes.
Players like Erik Cenrak, Jamie Oleksiak and Brenden Dillon can be the closest of the comparables in my eyes, but all these players make more money than Zadorov. 
Erik Cernak – $5.2M
Jamie Oleksiak – $4.6M
Brenden Dillon – $3.9M
I may take some flack for this, but considering the speed and toughness he brings to the Canucks back end, I think he should be making somewhere between Cernak and Oleksiak.
Brenden Dillon is the closest to Zadorov analytically. He signed his $3.9M deal in 2020 and will hit the open market on July 1st. One can assume that he is also due for a raise this off-season. 
Jamie Oleksiak was the Seattle Kraken’s expansion draft pick and immediately signed his current $4.6M deal. With the Kraken’s team identity in mid-air and the team’s fresh salary cap, they may have had to overpay to sign him. Comparing his production this season to Zadorov’s, it seems difficult to imagine an instance where Zadorov would sign for less. 
Erik Cernak signed his eight-year $5.2M per year extension after the Tampa Bay Lightning made their third straight trip to the Stanley Cup final. Clearly, they needed to pay their toughest defenceman after so much success. This season, Cernak is the closest comparable to Zadorov in both hits and penalty minutes per 60 — so don’t be surprised to see their annual dollar amount mirror one another.
Now it remains to be seen what the Canucks front office does moving forward. However, one thing is clear: unless it’s a team-friendly deal, any Zadorov extension will have to wait.
What do you think Canucks fans? Would you want to see Zadorov return to this Canucks blue line if the annual number is somewhere between the $5.2-$4.6M range?

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