Avalanche Have Big Decision to Make on Zadorov

In the first installment of the Colorado Avalanche offseason, it was predicted that left-shot defenseman Ryan Graves would receive a contract extension after having a great first full year in the NHL. We now shift our focus to another key restricted free agent defenseman in Nikita Zadorov.

Related: Colorado Avalanche Offseason: What to Do With Ryan Graves?

With a pipeline already loaded with high-end defensive talent (many being left-handed) the Avalanche need to find players at a good value in order to offset the impact of the flat salary cap.

General manager Joe Sakic will need to accommodate re-signing captain Gabriel Landeskog and rookie sensation Cale Makar. As a result, the outlook for Zadorov and his future in the organization may not be so clear.

Nikita Zadorov Acquisition and Early Career

The Russian rearguard was acquired by the Avalanche back in 2015 from the Buffalo Sabres in the deal for Ryan O’Reilly. Zadorov is a former first-round pick and was selected 16th overall back in 2013 and provided the physical element that the Avalanche lacked.

Nikita Zadorov
Former Buffalo Sabre Nikita Zadorov. (Photo: Jake Lenartowicz – Flickr)

He split his first year with the Avalanche organization mostly in the AHL playing in 52 games for San Antonio and 22 games at the NHL level. He made the jump to the NHL the next year appearing in 56 games but struggled defensively as his plus-minus rating of minus-20 would suggest.

He has grown into the NHL quite well, though, becoming one of the Avalanche’s more durable and defensively aware blueliners. The 24-year-old earned himself a two-year contract with a $2.15 million cap hit in 2017.

Nikita Zadorov 2019-20 Season Review

Zadorov signed a one-year deal with the Avalanche in the summer of 2019 in order to remain with the club, before becoming a restricted free agent again in the summer of 2020. He is not an offensive threat by any stretch, only chipping in four goals and nine assists for 13 points in his 64 games played.

Although those numbers may not jump off the page, the value he brings lies with his physical edge and large frame. The 6-foot-6 defenseman finished the regular season tied for 22nd in the league in hits with 175 and can play a key role on the penalty kill.

“[Zadorov] brings a tough, physical presence to our blue line,” Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic said. “He is an important part of our back end and we are excited to have him under contract for next season.”

Joe Sakic

With the emergence of Makar and the addition of Samuel Girard on the blue line, Zadorov has been pushed further down the lineup into a third-pairing role. He featured on the third pair for most of the regular season alongside veteran Ian Cole.

Related: Heiskanen, Hughes & Makar Exemplify New Player-Development Models

Due to injuries to Erik Johnson and Conor Timmins during Colorado’s 2020 playoff run, Zadorov was used on the second pair with Girard.

Why the Avalanche Should Move on From Zadorov

There is no issue regarding the capability and level of play Zadorov can provide, especially in a limited third-pairing role. However, the issue does arise when a depth defenseman is eating up more than $3 million in cap space.

Colorado Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov
Colorado Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

With Girard’s new deal kicking in beginning at the commencement of the 2020-21 season and Makar and Landeskog up for new contracts in 2021-22 that will likely cost a pretty penny, the logistics of the cap make it difficult to see Zadorov returning to Colorado.

Zadorov has signed two contracts, not including his entry-level deal. While he has sacrificed length of term for a higher salary in the past, he may be looking for more term and stability this time around.

Future in the Organization

Due to the cap constraints as well as the organizational depth of the team, this could very well be the end of Zadorov’s tenure in Colorado. With Timmins having paid his dues in the minors after working his way back from lingering head injuries, he is poised to begin his NHL career.

Conor Timmins, OHL, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Former Sault St. Marie Greyhound Conor Timmins appeared in his first NHL playoff game with the Avalanche this season (Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.)

Graves, who is also an RFA, is more likely to be brought back by the team than Zadorov, leaving Kevin Connauton as the only other defenseman who is not under team control past the 2019-20 season.

Related: 2020-21 Avalanche Blue Line: Are Bowen Byram and Conor Timmins on It?

With an already jumbled blue line and in house replacements ready to emerge, it would be a better long-term decision to move on from Zadorov and use a cheaper and capable replacement option in Timmins to fill that third-pairing role.

Contract and New Team Prediction

With his expiring one-year contract paying him an average annual value of $3.2 million, Zadorov looks to be in line for a pay rise upon his next contract. He will be arbitration-eligible, which may cause the Avalanche to pay more than they would like to retain his services, which could ultimately prevent the team from keeping him around.

Table 1: Comparable Signed Defenseman Contracts

PlayerSigned AsYears SignedSigning AgeContract LengthExpiryCap Hit
Erik GudbransonUFA2018-2021263 yearsUFA$4,000,000
Ryan MurrayRFA2019-2021252 yearsUFA$4,600,000
Brendon DillonRFA2015-2020245 yearsUFA$3,270,000
Mark MethotRFA2011-2015264 yearsUFA$3,000,000
These contracts represent a variety of options of defenseman signing contracts as RFA’s that the Avalanche could use as a similar player and contract comparisons.

The blueliner’s next contract would likely begin at a minimum of $3 million, and he could command anywhere up to $5 million per year. If Colorado is indeed forced to move on from Zadorov, some teams that could have an interest in acquiring the defenseman without giving up too much in terms of compensation to sign him could include the Winnipeg Jets, New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, and Los Angeles Kings, as all of these clubs need help on the defensive end.

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