According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, speaking in the intermission of tonight’s Leafs-Predators game, the Leafs are in contract discussions with Leaf right-hand defenceman Nikita Zaitsev...and the term discussed is lengthy. While McKenzie cautioned that the deal was a long ways from final, he reported that the Leafs were talking about locking up Zaitsev for seven years.
Elliotte Friedman subsequently reported an AAV estimated around $4.5M:
As was reported earlier by @TSNBobMcKenzie, Nikita Zaitsev is closing on seven-year extension with TOR. AAV would be $4.5, from what I hear— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) March 31, 2017
Nikita Zaitsev has had impressive moments since coming over from CSKA Moscow this season. While nominally a rookie under NHL rules, Zaitsev is 25 and experienced; he has 34 points in 76 games this year, showing very well as a powerplay quarterback. Zaitsev has frequently partnered with Morgan Rielly on the Leafs’ top pairing.
Some of Zaitsev’s stats are less encouraging. For example, here’s his hero chart:
Granted, that’s against tough competition, but those are less than impressive shot differentials.
On the other hand, Zaitsev rates out quite well by goals above replacement, clocking in as the 41st-best defender in the league. He’s a relatively clean player and he produces (as above) great assist totals. The deal above would signal the Leafs plan on Zaitsev being at least a top-four, and maybe top-pair, defenceman for them for years to come. Here’s hoping Nikita is up to the task.
For more info on Zaitsev and this rumoured deal, Arvind has written a column on it: “Context is Key in Examining Rumoured Zaitsev Deal”.