The Toronto Maple Leafs have long been mentioned among the frontrunners to land KHL all-star defenseman Nikita Zaitsev from CSKA Moscow this offseason.
According to AllHockey.ru, the Maple Leafs are in discussions with Zaitsev and there could be a deal in place for the 24-year-old blueliner to come over to Toronto next season.
Zaitsev went undrafted, but he has come into his own over the past few seasons in the KHL and had his breakout season in 2014-15 with 12 goals and 32 points in 57 games with CSKA. Named an alternate captain in the off-season, Zaitsev followed up with eight goals and 26 points in 46 games this season, and has added another one goal and six points in 12 playoff games so far this season.
Zaitsev’s move over to the NHL has been reported for much of the season, and Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman said Zaitsev’s “arrival is expected” when addressing the report.
If Zaitsev is brought over from CSKA, he would certainly have a fair shot at landing himself a roster spot with the Maple Leafs out of training camp. As the off-season approaches, Toronto currently only has five NHL defensemen under contract, one of which is veteran Stephane Robidas, 39, who has been on the injured reserve for the entire campaign. Jake Gardiner, Matt Hunwick, Morgan Rielly and the emerging Martin Marincin are all likely to be back with the Maple Leafs next season, and Zaitsev would be able to battle for a depth spot on the roster in camp.
It’s worth wondering, however, if Zaitsev will carry a similar out-clause to that of several other European or Russian players who have come over in recent months. Players such as Artemi Panarin and Nikita Tryamkin have AHL out clauses which would allow them to opt out of their current contracts should they be mired in the minors.
Zaitsev wasn’t the only name mentioned in relation to the Maple Leafs, however, as AllHockey.ru also citedAlexander Radulov as someone who could leave CSKA for the Maple Leafs next season. Radulov, 29, hasn’t played in the NHL 2011-12 and has had some difficulties coming to terms on a new deal with Moscow.
Radulov becomes a free agent at season’s end, and could choose to return to the NHL if the option is there. In 154 career NHL games, Radulov has 47 goals and 102 points. It’s worth nothing, though, that Friedman said he didn’t believe the report of the Maple Leafs’ interest in Radulov to be correct.