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Why Nikita Zadorov just doesn’t make much sense as a Vancouver Canucks trade target

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
6 months ago
Sometimes the rumours and speculation that fly around these parts are bang-on.
Sometimes, they’re a little Zador-off.
But make no mistake, there’s definitely at least some word on the street when it comes to the Vancouver Canucks and one particular player who has found himself on the trade block of late.
News broke late last week that Nikita Zadorov of the Flames had requested a trade out of Calgary. It didn’t take long after that for his name to be attached to the Vancouver Canucks, and not just because Zadorov’s agent is the man sometimes referred to as the Canucks’ unofficial AGM, Dan Milstein.
 
The Canucks weren’t the only team to come up in the speculation that followed the request, but they were among the most prominent, and that shouldn’t really come as a surprise. The Vancouver blueline has been massively improved over the past several months, but continues to be a work in progress, and the Canucks’ front office remains on the lookout for potential additions. Plus, on the surface, Zadorov would seem to offer up a lot of what they’re looking for in specific.
Zadorov is massive at 6’6” and 248 pounds, making him one of the largest defenders in hockey. And he knows how to use it to great effect, which is a positive for a Vancouver team that is still looking to increase its overall physicality.
Zadorov may be a left-hander, but he’s played a majority of his career on the right side and appears to be more comfortable there, which is where the Canucks would theoretically need him the most.
At the age of 28, Zadorov is around the right age to fit in with the established Canucks’ core. As a better-than-average skater, he can keep up with the team speed. As someone with a decent portion of puck-skill and a modicum of offensive talent, Zadorov has the ability to play a multifaceted role on multiple pairings with a variety of partners.
It all sounds pretty good, as far as the Canucks are concerned. Which is why it takes a little more than a surface glance to see the Zadorov is not actually a terrific fit for the current edition of the roster.
In fact, he might be a downright bad fit, and certainly not someone who makes an abundance of sense as a serious trade target.
Let’s start by defining Zadorov’s true status as an NHL defender. Is he talented? Absolutely. A unique talent, at that? Surely. There are few, if any, other defenders out there than share Zadorov’s blend of size and ability.
But the Canucks aren’t just looking for unique talents, they’re looking for talents that can be relied upon. Relied upon, specifically, for consistent top-four play on their blueline. And that is something that Zadorov has not ever really offered in his 11-year NHL career to date.
Zadorov has not typically been used as a top-four defender since his earlier days with the Colorado Avalanche. For several years running, he’s been the #5 guy on the Calgary depth chart, slotting in neatly behind Chris Tanev, Rasmus Andersson, MacKenzie Weegar, and Noah Hanifin for about the last 100 or so games straight.
Which is typical for Zadorov. Throughout his career, he’s averaged about 18 minutes of ice-time per game.
Zadorov doesn’t just find himself outside the top-four in terms of ice-time, but usually in terms of responsibility, too. He’s not one to matchup with opposing top lines very often, and in fact usually finds himself facing a less-than-league-average quality of competition. Much of the time, Zadorov is out there against bottom-six competition.
From HockeyViz.com
Since joining Calgary, about 54% of Zadorov’s starts have come in the offensive end, too.
This lighter deployment, to be entirely fair, is something that Zadorov thrives under. His even-strength Corsi and xG rates have been in excess of 55% in all three of his partial campaigns for the Flames.
But all that really makes Zadorov is a better-than-average bottom-pairing defender. A good #5, but a poor #4. Which is, of course, not without value. But which is without a lot of value to the Canucks, in particular, whose needs are akin to “top-four or bust” at this point.
That’s especially true when several cost-related factors are brought into consideration. Zadorov’s cap hit is currently $3.75 million, a little on the high side for a good fifth defender, but not entirely unreasonable.
But he’s also a pending UFA who is likely in line for a salary increase with the flat cap era now at an end. The Canucks, who already have some expensive extensions pending, would have to be prepared to give Zadorov a raise this summer or watch him walk away as a one-and-done rental. That’s not exactly what they’re looking to do.
And then there’s the cost of acquisition. We’ve already heard tell of several teams that would be “in” on Zadorov whenever the bidding begins. The trade compensation probably starts at a second round pick and goes upward from there.
So, already we’ve got the Canucks committing future salary and future assets to someone that they cannot reasonably expect to be a fit in their top-four. Already, we’re pretty far from ideal territory, and there’s more to it than economics.
Zadorov is also, as we said at the outset, a left-hander. We’ve already heard plenty about head coach Rick Tocchet’s disdain for playing defenders on their off-side. Sure, Zadorov has played the bulk of his career on the right, and is obviously plenty comfortable there. But if the Canucks are going to try a LHD at RD, they don’t exactly need to go outside of the organization to do so. Both Ian Cole and Carson Soucy have as much experience, and far more success, playing the right side than does Zadorov. Both Cole and Soucy have, if only briefly, played top-four roles at RD in the recent past. Zadorov has not.
So, what we’re really saying is, to pencil Zadorov in as a solution to the Canucks’ woes at right defence before giving Cole or Soucy more of a shot there would be strange. If the Canucks are acquiring him, it’s more likely that it’s for the left side, where they’ve already got plenty of NHL bodies, or to be on the bottom-pairing on the right side, which is not a position worth committing a lot of assets to with an expiring Tyler Myers and Mark Friedman already playing fine.
Then we can get into the specific reasons why Zadorov has not traditionally been trusted in the top-four.
Talented? Yes. Good at getting around the ice? Yes. Physical? Oh hell yes.
Cerebral? Consistent? Not prone to nightly gaffes and errors?
No.
Zadorov is the kind of defender that frequently becomes overwhelmed, especially against faster and more puck-skilled offences. He’s almost always okay against his fellow grinders, but put him up against the McDavids of the league and it can turn into turnover city rather quickly. Crank up the speed in Zadorov’s own end, and it’s not that difficult to get him turned around and moving in the wrong direction.
That’s probably why, thus far on the 2023/24 season, Zadorov has been on the ice for only eight goals for and 14 against, despite that sparkling Corsi.
He also, as a result of his defensive questionability and physical focus, takes an abundance of penalties. That’s not a great fit for the Canucks and their still-22nd-ranked PK.
Think of it this way. Take Tyler Myers. Turn down the offensive instincts a bit, crank up the physicality to 11, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what Zadorov is as an NHL defender.
And just because Myers is currently playing the best hockey of his Vancouver career, doesn’t mean that the Canucks need a second Myers.
In a different context, to a different team, Zadorov could very well be a useful addition to a roster.
Just not to the current roster of the Vancouver Canucks, who should rightly take their search for a blueline addition elsewhere.

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