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Toronto Maple Leafs sign Nikita Zaitsev to 7-year extension

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The ‘rookie’ defender will carry a $4.5million cap hit

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Washington Capitals v Toronto Maple Leafs - Game Three

Seven years for Nikita Zaitsev. He is now the player signed to the longest term on the roster, the only one signed past 2022, outlasting Frederik Andersen, Morgan Rielly, and Nazem Kadri. Oh, and Phil Kessel as well.

This was Zaitsev’s first year in the NHL, and he was a very good defender for the Maple Leafs, staying in the top 4 the majority of the season, his professional stats are below:

2013-14 CSKA Moskva KHL 33 4 8 12 18 1 Playoffs 4 1 1 2 27 0
Russia EHT 6 0 0 0 2 -1
Russia (all) International 11 0 0 0 2
2014-15 CSKA Moskva KHL 57 12 20 32 31 27 Playoffs 16 1 7 8 2 6
Russia EHT 3 0 0 0 0 0
Russia (all) International 3 0 0 0 0
2015-16 CSKA Moskva KHL 46 8 18 26 20 21 Playoffs 20 4 9 13 10 7
Russia EHT 8 0 0 0 4 -4
Russia WC 10 1 3 4 2 12
Russia (all) International 18 1 3 4 6 8
2016-17 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 82 4 32 36 38 -22 Playoffs 4 0 0 0 0 -4
Russia WCup 4 0 2 2 2 3

Stats from elite prospects

This contract locks Zaitsev in as a key piece of our core for the next seven years. David Alter of The Athletic has his bonus structure broken down:

The Athletic has learned that $11-million of Zaitsev’s contract is linked to signing bonuses, which will be paid out over five seasons — three at the beginning of the deal and two at the end. He’ll take home a $3-million signing bonus in less than two months when the contract begins on July 1.

He has $3,000,000 in bonuses coming his way over the next three years, with a salary of just $1.5 million, followed by $2,000,000 in bonuses the final two years of the deal - keeping his salary at $2.5 million and making him a possibly easier trade if it comes to that.

When this deal was first rumoured, Arvind wrote a piece analyzing the options the Maple Leafs had. You should read the whole article here.

When news broke Thursday evening that the Leafs were close to finalizing a seven-year, $4.5M AAV extension with Nikita Zaitsev, I think the general reaction was one of shock. Zaitsev has been a key cog in a solid Leafs team, but no one would have predicted that he’d be the recipient of a seven-year extension off the back of a single NHL season. But then, Zaitsev isn’t in a typical situation. And his situation informs the context through which we must examine this deal.

To start, I should say this. I’m incredibly wary of this deal. That wariness is almost exclusively due to the term, not the AAV. Any time you commit seven years to someone who isn’t the among the very best at their position, it’s scary. That’s a long time for things to potentially go wrong, especially if the extension takes the player into the declining part of his career. For Zaitsev, if it’s signed, this extension will carry him through to his age 32 season. We should expect some decline in his play over that period; it’s the severity of that decline that’s the question, and that will likely be the ultimate factor in whether this contract is a good one.

The problem is, this isn’t poker. We don’t have a stack of chips that we can bleed dry while waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. In fact, we have three resources that will all vanish in the next three seasons: Nylander, Marner, and Matthews on ELCs. Each of them is providing more than $5M in surplus value, and the Leafs’ best chance to win a Cup likely comes either next year or the year after, with either all three players or the latter two still not being paid what they’d be worth in a free market. They can’t afford to roll a year over and waste three of the most valuable non-McDavid contracts in the league. Their options were to sign Zaitsev or replace him for next year.

Zaitsev’s agent is no fool. If I can deduce that, so can he. And the result looks to be a contract that probably leans more towards what Zaitsev’s camp wants than what the Leafs’ camp wants. It’s a deal to be nervous about, for sure. But it’s not inexplicable, and it’s not necessarily an awful deal either. You just have to look at it in context.

What’s your say? Is this deal worth it?


How do you rate this signing?

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    (429 votes)
  • 49%
    Good money, bad term
    (631 votes)
  • 11%
    Bad deal but they were in a jam and had to do it.
    (147 votes)
  • 5%
    Overall bad deal, they should have walked.
    (70 votes)
1277 votes total Vote Now