March 21, 2023

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

Ottawa announced Wednesday that the Senators have traded defenseman Nikita Zaitsev to the Chicago Blackhawks for future considerations. Chicago also receives a 2023 second-round draft pick and a 2026 fourth-round draft pick in the deal. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Zaitsev has five assists and zero goals in 28 games this season with the Senators, his fourth with the franchise.
  • The 31-year-old has one year remaining on a seven-year, $31.5 million deal he signed in May 2017.
  • The Blackhawks now have nine first-round picks over the next two draft picks (four first-round picks and five second-round picks).

the athleteInstant Analysis:

what are they saying

“We are getting a defensive lineman of NHL caliber and we are getting a 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 flank and we expect him to join us soon.”

What does Zaitsev mean to Chicago

The Blackhawks have a swarm of young defensemen knocking on the door of the NHL, and Zaitsev looks like another veteran body on the way. But with Jake McCabe, Jack Johnson and Connor Murphy all on the trading floor, it’s likely that a few spots will be opened anyway for the likes of Isaac Phillips, Ian Mitchell, Alex Vlasic and Kevin Korczynski as first-choice players in 2022.

Davidson’s priority at this point is to accumulate as much start-up capital as he can on an NHL team. He has yet to move Patrick Kane, McCabe or Sam Laverty. This also helps the Blackhawks get to the cap floor next season, with Jonathan Toews ($10.5 million) and Kane ($10.5 million) out and about $3.6 million from Duncan Keith’s penalty. – Laziros

Why did the senators take this step?

This totally sounds like a prelude to another trade for Ottawa. By relinquishing Zaitsev’s contract, the Senators are out on his contract, which carried a $4.5 million cap through the end of next season. Ottawa is clearing cap space, likely with the goal of adding another defenseman sometime before the March 3 deadline.

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It might seem odd that general manager Pierre Dorion would suddenly feel 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 shoes drop. – Mendez

Why Zaitsev wasn’t a good fit for Ottawa

Over the past two seasons, Zaitsev has become a source of criticism in the Senators’ fanbase. His play in the defensive zone was likely out of proportion with his $4.5 million salary, and he found himself demoted to the AHL at the end of November. Although Zaitsev returned to the club in December and played a more or less steady role, he felt his days were numbered following his demotion.

At this point in the game, he’s probably the sixth or seventh outfielder on most NHL teams. He doesn’t generate offensive tones, but he is capable of killing penalties if needed. When he first arrived in Ottawa in 2019-20, Zaitsev was hailed as a long-term fit alongside Thomas Chaput in Ottawa’s best pairing. However, as the years progressed, Zaitsev found himself slipping down the depth chart. – Mendez

What’s next for the Blackhawks?

Arming your cap space is important and a key part of Davidson’s grand plan. But the real fireworks should begin any day now, with a pretty much complete roster apart from Seth Jones and Philipp Kurashev available to anyone who wants a Chicago road draft pick.

Kane is the headliner, of course, but the Black Hawks believe they can take advantage of McCabe’s first-round pick — easily their best defender this season — if they keep half of his $4 million cap he hit over the next two seasons. Lafferty, a quick penalty killer who has scored 10 goals this season (including four shorthanded goals), is also on the market, and the Blackhawks are hoping he deserves a second player. – Laziros

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(Photo: Nick Torciaro/USA Today)