Is Nikita Zaitsev a fit for the Rangers rebuild

Nikita Zaitsev (Icon Sportswire/Getty Images)

The Toronto Maple Leafs are in a bit of trouble. It is well known that the team is sitting on limited salary cap space with prominent players set to be free agents. It was at first rumored, then confirmed that Nikita Zaitsev is a player that could need to be dealt to save cap space.

Many fans are believers that taking on a bad contract along with an asset would behoove the Rangers. In many cases it’s close to impossible to disagree with this view. However when it comes to Nikita Zaitsev, this is one contract that should NOT be taken on by the team.

In Defense…

The Rangers are far along in their rebuild. While they may not be a team to fear just yet, they are close to being a threat. Typically, when a team decides to rebuild there are two factors. The first is a lack of prospect depth in the organization. The other comes from expensive, or outright bad contracts.

Currently there are some contracts the team has that are expensive and there are some that are bad. Coming into the 2019-20 offseason, the Rangers have roughly $19 million in cap space. Contracts like, Marc Staal (expensive), Brendan Smith (Bad), Kevin Shattenkirk (expensive) and Vladislav Namestnikov (expensive) are the books for next season. Shattenkirk, Smith and Staal will be on the books for the 2020-21 season as well. While the team will look to add this offseason, they still have salary on the books that hinders that.

Nikita Zaitsev is a 27 year old, right handed defenseman who has five years left on a deal with a $4.5 million cap hit. In other words, the contracts that are already expensive or, as some would say bad, expire in two years at the most. Zaitsev’s contract would be the Rangers responsibility for at least the five seasons.

Subtraction by Addition

While the Rangers could absolutely inquire about a player like Kasperi Kapanen or Andreas Johnsson to be part of the trade. Zaitsev being acquired would hurt the Rangers in a plethora of ways.

First, obviously is the cap situation, if the team decided to trade for Zaitsev plus assets. As mentioned before that $4.5 million cap hit is not exactly what you’re looking for in a player like Zaitsev. By no means is he a traffic cone out there, however he also is not worth borderline top 4 defenseman money either. Should they buy him out, that’s a decade of a cap hit and next season they would only save about $500 thousand on the cap.

Second, and this may be even more important Zaitsev would block the young defensemen. The Rangers prospect pipeline goes straight through the blue line. Libor Hajek, Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren and Yegor Rykov are the defenseman that are either on the cusp or will be a part of the team next year. Next there’s fan favorite K’Andre Miller, Nils Lundqvist, Joey Keane and more players that could be pushing skating in a well known arena on 34th street in the coming year.

Teams like the Arizona Coyotes and Carolina Hurricanes took on bad contracts for prospects. It’s a good way to end up with young talent. However, Zaitsev’s contract is simply too expensive for way too long for the team to justify making a move for him. Toronto will need to be creative to keep their stud players, however the Zaitsev to Broadway idea that has been floated around is just simply not in the cards.

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