Why the Canucks should let Nikita Zadorov walk and sign Brenden Dillon instead

Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Tyson Cole
27 days ago
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The Vancouver Canucks have some tough decisions to make this offseason. The club has $24M of remaining salary cap space to spend on their 11 pending free agents – 10 of which are looking for substantial raises.
One of the biggest question marks for the Canucks this offseason surrounds playoff standout Nikita Zadorov. The Canucks defenceman sure made a name for himself this playoffs. Whether it was the fear he set in the Nashville Predators forwards entering the zone or the game-tying goal in Game 1 against the Edmonton Oilers to cap off a comeback, Zadorov was a big part of the Canucks’ success this season.
The Canucks acquired Zadorov on December 3rd from the Calgary Flames in exchange for a 2026 third-round pick and a 2024 fifth-round pick. Vancouver General Manager Patrik Allvin had this to say about Zadorov after they acquired him:
“Nikita is a big, strong and mobile two-way defenceman who will bring more physicality to our backend. We really like his size and reach, and his addition to our blue line gives us more depth and better options moving forward.”
And that’s exactly what he brought to the Canucks’ blue line in the regular season.
Zadorov played most of his time on the bottom pairing but still averaged 17:04 minutes of ice time in his 54 games in Vancouver. He scored five goals, had 14 points, and finished with a +6 rating. From the time he joined the Canucks, Zadorov brought the physicality Allvin was looking for. He finished three hits shy of Noah Juulsen for the team lead in that category for defencemen.
But it was his run in the playoffs that he earned the love of Canucks fans.
Zadorov brought that physicality right off the rip in the series against the Nashville Predators. He finished second on the team in hits (24), trailing just Dakota Joshua by one.
But it was his added goal-scoring ability that had the city taken aback.
It wasn’t just that he was scoring; it was the near-impossible angles that he was scoring from that had Canucks fan’s jaws on the floor.
In the following series, Zadorov carried over that aggression by getting under the skin of Edmonton Oilers’ tough guy Evander Kane.
Despite his efforts, the Canucks were eliminated in the second round by the eventual Western Conference Champions. Zadorov finished tied for fifth on the team in points (8) and second in hits (45). The 6’6 defenceman’s playoff performance quickly rose him to the top of Canucks fan’s priority list to re-sign this offseason.
In his exit interview, Zadorov expressed his love for his time in Vancouver and his desire to return in a Canucks uniform. He would prove to back up his thoughts as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that Zadorov was willing to take a discount to stay in Vancouver. However, no official numbers were released, so we can only project what that so-called “discounted” price might be.
After the Canucks were eliminated, Chek TV’s Rick Dhaliwal speculated on Zadorov’s number after speaking with his agent, Dan Milstein:
“I believe Zadorov might have priced himself out of Vancouver. Look at the city; the fans were loving him. Milstein hasn’t had that conversation with the Canucks yet; he will do so very soon. Milstein is looking for term, and he’s going to get over $5M, some say $6M. That might be too expensive.”
$6M? That sounds like an agent trying to get his client some extra money. However, even anywhere above $5M seems to be on the high end. His production in the playoffs undoubtedly stole the hearts of Canucks fans, but was the 13-game playoff stretch really worth that price tag?
Here is Zadorov’s career regular stats.
Nothing really jumps off the page, does it? His career-high point total is 22, and outside of a 14-goal anomaly in 2021-2022, he never surpassed seven goals in a season. However, offence hasn’t been a main facet of his game. It’s the physicality and the bully aspect he brings as to why he’ll be so coveted in free agency. But even at that, he finished outside the top 20 in hits for defencemen this season.
Take the emotion out of this one. Would you want to pay a defenceman between that $5M – $6M range who caps out to be around a 20-point player and isn’t even among the elite group in hits?
To put a little perspective into it, here are all the defencemen making between the $5M – $6M range next season.
Players must have played more than 41 games this season to qualify.
Zadorov doesn’t lead this group in any category. He’s third in hits, eighth in points, second-last in average ice time and dead last in blocked shots.
And this isn’t me saying he isn’t going to make somewhere within this range. He’ll likely command at the high end of this range in free agency when teams often overpay to secure the player, i.e. Tyler Myers in 2019. The club has to consider this when deciding if this number makes sense for a long-term fit after, realistically, one good playoff run. Or should Allvin take his own advice and go out and find the next D̶a̶k̶o̶t̶a̶ J̶o̶s̶h̶u̶a̶  Nikita Zadorov?
Well, I may have found him, and he projects to be significantly cheaper.
Brenden Dillon.
The New Westminster native has already spoken on Donnie & Dhali about coming and playing for his hometown team. And let me tell you, he’s about as tough as it gets when it comes to defensive defencemen.
If Zadorov walks, any defenceman that replaces him won’t be able to match his size; that’s a given. But Dillon’s no slouch, standing at 6’4 and 225 lbs. He brings physicality and toughness, dare I say, more than Zadorov?
Dillon had more hits in each of the previous three seasons than Zadorov did. In addition to hits, Dillon had two more fights than Zadorov last season. This shows that if Dillon is the suitable replacement for the Canucks, the protective role that Zadorov leaves behind won’t be vacant.
Here are their regular season stats from this past season and their projected next contract from AFP Analytics.
These two players have strikingly similar stats based on last season. They had the exact same number of points, but Dillon outhit, blocked, and averaged more ice time per game than Zadorov.
And if those contract projections are accurate, why would the Canucks not try and save nearly $2.5M per season? Especially when they’re have so many more free agents to sign.
Another discrepancy between the two is that Dillon was in a prominent top-four role with the Winnipeg Jets. During his three-year tenure with the club, Dillon averaged 19:03 of ice time per game. Meanwhile, Zadorov has played on his respective team’s bottom pairing over the last three seasons, averaging 17:01 minutes per game.
Let’s take a look at the left side of this Canucks defence corps. Quinn Hughes isn’t going anywhere, and Carson Soucy proved he could play top-four minutes. So, whoever they bring in would have to play bottom pairing.
And is it the best decision to bring your fifth defenceman in at the $5M-$6M cap hit? Or, could you find a better value on the market who’s produced at the same level as Zadorov, who might be a little older, to assume that left side on the bottom pairing?
The Canucks exercised this strategy this season with an aging Tyler Myers. The club lowered his ice time from over 21 minutes per game to under 19. This allowed Myers to have one of his best seasons in a Canucks uniform. Maybe the same thing could help Dillon transition to a new team more manageably.
Now, it’s not a foregone conclusion that Dillon would sign here, but we are inching closer and closer to a decision on Zadorov’s future in Vancouver. Dhaliwal reported Friday morning that the Canucks will make their final offer to the 6’6 Russian defencemen this weekend.
Look, I love Zadorov as much as the next guy, but the Canucks aren’t in a position to pay the premium it will cost to keep him. Bringing in a hometown kid with similar production could allow the club to take a step forward next season rather than a step back. This will give Allvin and Rutherford a few extra million dollars to help re-sign their other free agents or the much-needed top-six forward for Elias Pettersson.
What do you think Canucks fans? Would you like to see Vancouver re-sign Nikita Zadorov for the projected $5M – $6M? Would you be happy to have Brenden Dillon as his replacement? Let us know in the comment section below!
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