The Toronto Maple Leafs have looked up another piece of their core, making official a contract that Bob McKenzie had reported was close in late March. They have signed pending RFA defenceman Nikita Zaitsev on a seven-year deal worth $31.5 million. The contract features an AAV or cap hit of $4.5 million, and a limited no trade clause.
As I reported on @TSNHockey Leaf broadcast, TOR and Zaitsev working towards extension. Not done. May be as long as 7 years. Stay tuned.
This makes the Russian defenceman the second highest paid blueliner on the Leafs behind only Morgan Rielly.
Nikita Zaitsev’s extension includes a limited no-trade clause.
Toronto Maple Leafs Sign Nikita Zaitsev to an Extension
After seven seasons in the KHL with Sibir Novosibirsk and CSKA Moscow, Nikita Zaitsev came over to Toronto last spring, when he signed a one-year entry-level deal on May 2, 2016. Coming out of Russia at the age 24, nobody really knew what to expect out of Zaitsev. Most thought he would slot in on the bottom pairing, where he could chip in offensively while adjusting to the North American game. Starting at the World Cup of Hockey with Russia in September, Zaitsev quickly dismissed that notion and immediately placed himself in the Leafs’ top four.
As a right shot, Nikita Zaitsev has played most of the season with Morgan Rielly on the top pairing, taking big minutes and tough assignments. This pairing lasted until the 7-2 loss to the Florida Panthers on March 14th. Since that awful showing, Zaitsev has been paired with Jake Gardiner, where the Russian has returned to form.
Zaitsev finished with 36 points in 82 games as a 25-year old rookie. That puts him second on the team from the blueline and third league-wide in defensive rookie scoring. Unfortunately Zaitsev was injured, suffering a concussion, in the Leafs final regular season game. He returned for game three of the Leafs first round series against Washington, but did not look the same as he did previously. He did not play for Russia in the World Championships due to the injury.
His current contract maxes out at $1.775 million if he reaches all of his rookie bonuses. On the new seven-year extension, the renewal buys five years of unrestricted free agency.
John Klingberg (7 years, $4.25 million), Oscar Klefbom (7 years, $4.2 million), and Jonas Brodin (6 years, $4.2 million) all signed similar deals to Zaitsev’s reported extension with similar production. The unique part of Zaitsev’s extension will be the age at which he signs it. The reported seven-year extension would bring the Russian until age 32 and buy five UFA years. The three contract comparables were all signed at age 21 or 22, only buying one or two UFA years.
A young, right-handed defenceman who will finish with close to 40 points as a rookie should not come cheap. Zaitsev is going to get paid, cementing his spot on the Leafs blueline for years to come.