March 23, 2023

Brighton Journal

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NHL trade scores: The Senators pay the Blackhawks to get Nikita Zaitsev off their hands

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Blackhawks get: Defenseman Nikita Zaitsev, 2023 second round, 2026 fourth round.

Senators get: Future Considerations


Sean Gentile: The price Ottawa paid for giving up a year and changing Nikita Zaitsev’s $4.5m AAV probably doesn’t bode well for the rest of the league – the exchange rate (second and fourth-round picks) is high, and teams that might be interested in trading their way out of hell should be A little afraid of him.

However, the Senators can get away with it, despite already firing their first manager in 2022 in the Alex DeBrincat deal. Their core is young, talented and in most cases – Tim Stozel, Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris, Drake Patterson, Jake Sanderson – either locked up for the long term or at the start of their contracts. Ottawa’s potential pipeline isn’t spectacular (#24 in Scott Wheeler’s rankings) but it’s as strong as it needs to be, with expected contributors at the top. It’s easy to use two options for making bad money when you’re in a situation like this.

Most of all, the space created is already worth more than Ottawa’s picks. Next season, Zaitsev’s last on the books, St├╝tzle’s extension begins, and DeBrincat, a pending RFA, will likely be back on the books. Sens needs the money to account for that, build the rest of the roster, and maybe have some room to work over the next 10 days.

As for the Blackhawks, they may need Zaitsev’s help getting to the cap floor next season. Whether that was the case or not, his injury wouldn’t be a concern. They bought some footage for $5 million. Tidy up a bit of business.

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Seniors degree: B
Row Blackhawks: a

Shane Goldman: Zaitsev has been a burden on the Senators’ backend, which is an area they need to improve on, so that’s adding by subtracting. While he’s already had a positive impact on the team’s expected goal suppression in 2020-21, he’s hurt the team on the defensive end in the past two seasons. As it stands, Ottawa allows the 10th highest average five-on-five shots and is in the bottom half of the league in goals expected. This year, in his 28 matches played, he has increased his average shots-for-about five tries per 60 (second worst on the team) and projected goals-for-go at 0.23 (third worst).

So it’s all the clicks the Senators have to pay to get his contract out, and it makes more sense that the Blackhawks would be willing to accommodate that. They already have one of the worst blue lines in the league, and that only adds to it. Anything to plunge them into Connor Bedard, and next year, bring them closer to the cover floor. Since Chicago literally doesn’t care about the bottom line this year or next, the ice-related aspect of this move doesn’t matter, adding draft picks matters. It is even more important now that they have lost a trading chip in Jonathan Toews, and who knows how much leverage they have in the Patrick Kane position.

This helps the Senators increase their salary flexibility — they have increased incoming costs, and they need to be in the market for more defensemen who become available — a cost they can afford given they’ve been a seller for some time, and their potential pool has built up. But if this sets a bar for the rest of the contenders to match as they move around the paycheck to add, it will be difficult for some managers to navigate.

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Row Blackhawks: a
Seniors degree: B

(Photo: Eric Bolt/USA Today)