Senators trade Nikita Zaitsev to Blackhawks: How deal helps Chicago reach cap

By Mark Lazerus and Ian Mendes

The Senators traded defenseman Nikita Zaitsev to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for future consideration, Ottawa announced Wednesday. Chicago also receives a 2023 second-round draft pick and a 2026 fourth-round draft pick as part of the deal. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Zaitsev has five assists and no goals in 28 games this season with the Senators, his fourth with the franchise.
  • The 31-year-old has one year left on a seven-year, $31.5 million contract he signed in May 2017.
  • The Blackhawks now have nine picks in the first two rounds over the next two drafts (four first-round picks and five second-round picks).

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What they say

“We’re getting an NHL-caliber defenseman and gaining some very valuable draft capital in this upcoming draft and beyond,” Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson said in a statement. “Nikita gives us more depth on the right side and we expect him to join us soon.”

What Zaitsev means to Chicago

The Blackhawks have a host of young defensemen knocking on the NHL’s door, and Zaitsev appears to be another veteran on the way. But with Jake McCabe, Jack Johnson and Connor Murphy all on the trading block, it’s possible a few spots will open up anyway for Isaak Phillips, Ian Mitchell, Alex Vlasic and 2022 first-rounder Kevin Korchinski.

Davidson’s priority at this point is to accumulate as much draft capital as possible as the NHL team hits rock bottom. And he hasn’t even moved Patrick Kane, McCabe or Sam Lafferty yet. It also helps the Blackhawks reach the cap next season, with Jonathan Toews ($10.5 million), Kane ($10.5 million) and about $3.6 million from Duncan Keith’s recovery penalty. coming out of the books. —Lazerus

Why did the Senators make this gesture?

It absolutely sounds like a precursor to another trade for Ottawa. By dropping Zaitsev’s contract, the Senators are out of his contract, which carried a cap of $4.5 million through the end of next season. Ottawa is freeing up space, likely with the intention of adding another defenseman at some point before the March 3 deadline.

It would seem odd if general manager Pierre Dorion suddenly felt the need to send a second- and fourth-round pick to Chicago to take Zaitsev’s contract unless he had something else brewing. We will likely be able to analyze this trade from Ottawa’s perspective once the other shoe drops. — Mendes


NHL trades: Senators drop Nikita Zaitsev on Blackhawks

Why Zaitsev doesn’t belong in Ottawa

Over the past two seasons, Zaitsev has become a lightning rod for criticism from Senators fans. His play in the defensive zone probably didn’t live up to his $4.5 million salary, and he found himself demoted to the AHL in late November. Even though Zaitsev returned to the club in December and played a fairly stable role, he felt like his days were numbered after the demotion.

At this point in the game, he’s probably the sixth or seventh defenseman on most NHL teams. He doesn’t generate a ton offensively, but he’s capable of penalty kills if needed. When he first arrived in Ottawa in 2019-20, Zaitsev was hailed as the long-term fit alongside Thomas Chabot on Ottawa’s Best Duo. However, over the years, Zaitsev found himself slipping down the depth chart. — Mendes

What’s next for the Blackhawks?

Armament cap space is important and a key part of Davidson’s grand plan. But the real fireworks should start any day now, with just about the entire roster of Seth Jones and Philipp Kurashev available to anyone looking to throw down a Chicago draft pick.

Kane is the headliner, of course, but the Blackhawks believe they can benefit from a first-round pick for McCabe – easily their best defenseman this season – if they keep half of his 4 million cap dollars over the next two seasons. Lafferty, a quick penalty killer who has scored 10 goals this season (including four shorthanded), is also on the market, and the Blackhawks are hoping he’s worth a second round for someone. —Lazerus

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(Photo: Nick Turchiaro/USA Today)

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