We’ve already established that, outside of the cap flexibility, it’s unlikely the Leafs will get much of value in a deal for Nikita Zaitsev, who recently made it clear he wants out of Toronto. So it follows that any general manager looking to bring him on will be looking to do one or more of a few things, namely 1) Give him a change of scenery hoping he can produce offensively again, 2) Rid themselves of a shorter term perceived cap problem, or 3) Make a trade they’re definitely going to regret because they’re not very smart.
With that in mind, we can probably pinpoint a few potential suitors around the league who fit one or all of those categories. I’ve tagged in a few other writers to give me their predictions on where Zaitsev ends up in the coming weeks.
The Dallas Stars
I’ve been stuck on the idea of Dallas since February, so I’m going to stick with Dallas given they seem to love Toronto RHD reclamation projects so much. They’ve moved on from Carrick, they’ll soon be moving on from Polak, it’s probably time to give Zaitsev a whirl. When looking a return, I’d love to see if Andrew Cogliano is within the realm of possibilities and what would need to be added to make that happen, but even something straight up for Hanzal is something I could make peace with.
The Florida Panthers
Zaitsev will be a Florida Panther next season. He is a Dave Tallon kind of player (ie Mike Babcock likes him) plus he can be part of the Russian invasion they have planned this summer. Given the rumours that Zaitsev is looking for a better situation, one would think playing with his old National Team teammates would fit the bill.
The Montreal Canadiens
Zaitsev will be a Hab. I mean, Marc Bergevin has been scarily smart for a while now, and Leafs-Habs trades always seem to pop up when we’re least expecting them. Plus, with the rest of the Leafs’ divisional rivals – save for Ottawa – making smart moves, the universe owes us and should probably start evening things out.
The New York Islanders
I’m going to do some guessing here but Zaitsev just feels like an Islander. They have an insane amount of cap space and Lou being there definitely helps. It might not be realistic, but the key factors are there.
The Minnesota Wild
I have a gut feeling that Zaitsev will end up with the Wild, between Paul Fenton’s desperation to make a deal, and his already bad moves with the Wild point that he could be convinced to take on Zaitsev, and he might be the best potential for a deal where we don’t have to take anything bad, or give anything good, in return.
Ryan Fancey (me)
The Minnesota Wild or Edmonton Oilers
Like others here, I’m going to look for general managers with a shoddy track record who are looking for shake-ups. The Wild and Oilers are two clubs that are utterly directionless, stuck in no-man’s land, and it’s hard to get an idea of what their plans are. They might be looking for trades for the sake of trades this summer. And that’s who the Leafs will probably want to target, GMs desperate for a new roster dynamic who think they can get more out of Zaitsev due to his relatively strong skating and one-off productive rookie season.