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:

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”.