Unsurprisingly, not long after becoming the latest player to speak out unfavourably about their NHL reality in a relaxed summer moment, only to have those words translated for an audience to which it was never intended, it appears Nikita Zaitsev is headed for a divorce from the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman first reported Thursday that the Maple Leafs and Zaitsev are working together to find him a “fresh start” after the defenseman laboured through another difficult season in Toronto.
It wasn’t the nightmare season Zaitsev had as a sophomore and he showed flashes of effectiveness, particularly in the postseason. But the Russian once again contributed to the Maple Leafs’ struggles on the back end in his third year with the organization, sporting some of the worst underlying numbers on the club. He also managed just three goals and 14 points, underscoring his inability to live up to the value tied to his $4.5 million salary.
Zaitsev managed to dodge some of the criticism he’s dealt with through portions of last season with reasonably improved play but, despite that, apparently indicated that he was unhappy with his treatment in Toronto in a recent interview with a Russian sports outlet.
— The Leafs IMO (@TheLeafsIMO) May 29, 2019
His comments may not be entirely off base, but because his contributions have failed to match his value over the previous two seasons and the Leafs are bracing for a significant cap crunch, it should be no surprise that open disproval toward the fans, team or media has secured Zaitsev a ticket out of town.
However it seems that Zaitsev might have beat the Leafs to the punch.
It was Nikita Zaitsev who, for personal reasons, asked TOR today to try to facilitate a trade. He has five years remaining on a contract with an AAV of $4.5M. TOR will try to oblige Zaitsev but are not in a salary cap position to retain much, if any, salary.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) May 30, 2019
While both Zaitsev and the Leafs might easily reconcile with a split, finding a trade partner could prove to be a challenge. The defenseman still has five years and $22.5 million remaining on the seven-year agreement brokered two summers ago.
Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas confirmed that Zaitsev issued a trade request shortly after the news broke.
Though he said he would do what he can to find the defenseman a new home, he didn’t close the door on Zaitsev’s tenure completely.
Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas confirms the plan is to try to find a new home for defenseman Nikita Zaitsev: "That will be our goal, to try to find a fresh start for him, for his own personal and private reasons." pic.twitter.com/VEbDQBloDg
— Adam Kimelman (@NHLAdamK) May 30, 2019
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