Senators and Leafs Swap Ceci, Zaitsev

The Toronto Maple Leafs have traded Nikita Zaitsev, Connor Brown and Michael Carcone to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for Cody Ceci, Ben Harpur, Aaron Luchuk and a 2020 third-round pick.

The trade isn’t a shock to the hockey world, as it comes two days after it was speculated, and a day after Zaitsev waved his no trade-clause for the deal to happen.

Zaitsev reportedly asked for a trade from the Maple Leafs on May 30. After a strong 2016-17 rookie season that saw him collect 36 points, the defender signed a seven-year, $31.5 million deal. He hasn’t been able to find that early success, netting only 13 and 14 points in the two seasons following.

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Brown is a sweetener for the Senators, in order to take on the remaining five years of Zaitsev’s contract. Brown has been an effective forechecker for the Maple Leafs, playing every game for them the last three seasons and scoring 43 goals and 99 points.

After much speculation over the years, the Senators finally trade Ceci. The 15th overall pick in 2012, Ceci never really lived up to that selection. He’s spent six seasons with the team, netting 32 goals and 118 points.

Cody Ceci
Cody Ceci has been traded to the Maple Leafs (photo: Amy Irvin)

The other defender on the move to Toronto in Ben Harpur. The 6-foot-6 defender may end up playing for the Toronto Marlies, as he never made the Senators roster full-time. In 103 NHL games, Harpur has seven points.

Finally, the teams swapped prospects, with the Maple Leafs getting centre Aaron Luchuk and the Senators acquiring winger Michael Carcone. Luchuk spent last season splitting time with the AHL’s Belleville Senators and the ECHL’s Brampton Beast, while Carcone was with the Marlies after coming from the Vancouver Canucks organization in the Josh Leivo trade.

The 2020 third-round pick sent by the Senators is the Columbus Blue Jackets’ from the Ian Cole trade.

Maple Leafs Clearing Cap Space

By sending Zaitsev and Brown, the Maple Leafs are working hard to make cap space. Zaitsev’s $4.5 million AAV for the next five seasons is a big gain for the team who is working hard to re-sign RFA Mitch Marner. Even moving the one year remaining of Brown’s $2.1 million AAV helps the cause.

The move comes after the Maple Leafs also traded veteran Patrick Marleau to the Carolina Hurricanes, where he was bought out shortly after. Rumour is the team is also trying to move Nazem Kadri, who carries a contract of $4.5 million for three more seasons.

Nikita Zaitsev, Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs have sent Nikita Zaitsev to the Senators (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

The Maple Leafs currently have $11.4 million in cap space with Marner and Ceci as RFAs. Marner will likely eat up most of that space, while Ceci has reportedly verbally agreed with the Maple Leafs to a $4.5 million contract for one year. Expect more moves from the Maple Leafs as the offseason continues.

Ceci comes into the fold looking to re-boot his career after being the proverbial kicking boy in Ottawa for fans. Playing on the higher-skilled Maple Leafs, Ceci may be able to boost his value as he prepares for unrestricted free agency in 2020.

Senators Preach Patience for Prospects

With the Senators entering the second year of their rebuild, the acquisitions of Zaitsev and Brown will help them keep some of their highly-touted prospects in the AHL for at least another season.

Zaitsev is a right-handed defender that will simply take Ceci’s spot in the lineup, presumably the second pairing. With his $4.5 million AAV, he also helps the team reach the cap floor, although that shouldn’t be a problem now with the expected signings of ex-Maple Leafs and unrestricted free agents Ron Hainsey and Tyler Ennis.

Like Ceci, Zaitsev may also benefit from a change in scenery after feeling the pressure from the hockey-crazed Toronto media and usually feeling the anger from Maple Leafs fans.

Brown helps the team in their weakest area, the right wing. The 25-year-old is more than capable of playing on the second or third line and allows the organization to keep a promising forward in the minors. Some prospects, like Drake Batherson, may be ready for the jump to the NHL, but if the Senators can keep them in the AHL, that could be better for their long-term development. Although, it’s not out of the question that they may impress in training camp and steal a spot.