Should the Red Wings Trade for Nikita Zaitsev?

Last week, Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Nikita Zaitsev requested a trade from the Maple Leafs for personal reasons. General manager Kyle Dubas will be looking to move him sooner rather than later as Toronto slowly approaches a cap crunch with the impending signing of Mitch Marner. With that being said, should the Red Wings trade for Zaitsev?

The Red Wings have been rebuilding their blue line since the departure of
Nicklas Lidstrom and have needed solid defensemen for a while. Would Zaitsev help or hurt next season’s roster? Would it be worth it? Here are the pros and cons of both scenarios.

What Zaitsev Can Bring to the Table

There’s a reason Zaitsev netted a seven-year, $31.5-million contract with a modified no-trade clause. He’s only 27, and as a right-handed, top-four defenseman, he’s a rare find. He’s been excellent on the penalty kill, especially when paired with Jake Muzzin. While shorthanded, 96 percent of his starts have been in the defensive zone, which means Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock trusted him enough to get the job done. He earned his contract for his tenacity with the puck and competitive style. If this season is any indication, he just isn’t a good fit in Toronto’s system. He’d likely shine bright with a fresh start on another team.

Another benefit to trading for Zaitsev would be the low price tag. With his less-than-stellar season in 2018-19 and his request to move out, Dubas may have to settle for a middling return. In fact, Dubas may even need to ship out a prospect just to get Zaitsev off the books, especially if the Maple Leafs are planning to give Marner an Auston Matthews-worthy contract. This claustrophobic situation puts the Red Wings’ general manager, Steve Yzerman, in an excellent spot.

If he chooses to take on Zaitsev’s contract, the odds are in Yzerman’s favor. He would more than likely offer a low-round pick and a lower prospect in return for Zaitsev and a higher-ranked prospect. Whether or not the Maple Leafs would take his offer remains to be seen, but if he plays the long game, Yzerman has the potential to walk away with a top-four defenseman and a solid prospect with little to no loss.

Why Trading for Zaitsev is a Bad Idea

Zaitsev was a statistical black hole in the 2018-19 season, according to Corsica Hockey. When he was on the ice, his teammates suffered. His Corsi for percentage is an abysmal minus-10.7 percent, meaning the team’s effectiveness was over a tenth below its regular threshold when he played. Zaitsev played less minutes on the ice this season than he’s played his entire professional career. In the playoffs, he averaged a mere 17 minutes per game, the lowest he’s averaged in his career. If this season doesn’t prove to be a bump in the road, Zaitsev’s statistics may worsen, creating a bigger burden on an already suffering blue line.

With five years remaining on his contract, Zaitsev’s deal could potentially leave the Red Wings with another overpaid depth player that can’t contribute like he used to. With the upcoming signings of Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha, and Tyler Bertuzzi, adding Zaitsev’s $4.5-million contract would do more harm than good, even if he’s able to shine in his role in the top four.

Detroit’s roster already features Jonathan Ericsson, Trevor Daley, Filip Hronek, Danny DeKeyser, Madison Bowey, and Mike Green. Plus, the potential of Niklas Kronwall re-signing for another year could put the Red Wings in a tough spot. Rising stars like Dennis Cholowski and Oliwer Kaski could fight their way onto an already overcrowded roster; adding Zaitsev would only push their shot at the big leagues further out of sight. He might still have time to earn his massive contract, but it seems like too much of a risk for Yzerman and the Red Wings at the moment.

Is Trading for Zaitsev Worth It?

Trading for Zaitsev doesn’t seem to fit in the Red Wings’ current plans. At best, their trade would net them a mid-tier prospect and a top-four defenseman with small upside. At its worst, the Red Wings could potentially lose a prospect and a pick for a defenseman past his prime with over $20 million remaining on his contract. With the up-and-comers the Red Wings have in their system, it seems more likely that the team will stay away from this deal.

Toronto Maple Leafs Nikita Zaitsev Calle Rosen
Toronto Maple Leafs defencemen Nikita Zaitsev and Calle Rosen (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)

What do you think? Should the Red Wings try to capitalize on Zaitsev? What do you think it would cost? Would it be worth it? Let us know in the comments!