Maple Leafs closing in on seven-year extension with Nikita Zaitsev

Florida Panthers right wing Jaromir Jagr shields the puck from Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Nikita Zaitsev. (Frank Gunn/CP)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Nikita Zaitsev and the Toronto Maple Leafs are in discussions on a long-term contract extension, sources tell Sportsnet.

The Russian defenceman is nearing the end of his first NHL season and has made an even bigger impact than the organization expected when it signed him as a free agent from CSKA Moscow of the KHL last summer.

Zaitsev and the Leafs are believed to be working on a seven-year deal with an average value of $4.5-million per season.

A signed and sealed contract isn’t thought to be imminent.

“I can’t comment on that, but Zait’s a good player and if he wants to be a Leaf for a long time that’d be great,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said after a 3-1 win over the Predators.

The 25-year-old Zaitsev leads the team in ice time with more than 22 minutes per night and has scored four goals and 34 points in 76 games. Babcock has repeatedly sung his praises, saying earlier this season: “Any time you can find a guy in the summer that plays in your top pair, you’ve done something special.”

After feeling a little homesick early on, Zaitsev has come to enjoy life in Toronto.

He raved about the playoff buzz he started to sense last weekend during an autograph session with fans north of the city and has indicated that it was his preference to sign another deal with the Leafs rather than return home to Russia.

Breaking down the reported Zaitsev extension with Elliotte Friedman
March 31 2017

A contract with a $4.5-million AAV would slot him second among the team’s blue-liners – between Morgan Rielly ($5-million) and Jake Gardiner ($4.05-million). The Leafs would also be buying five potential years of unrestricted free agency with a seven-year deal.

Zaitsev is currently playing on an entry-level contract that could be worth as much as $1.775-million this season if he maxes out his bonuses.

The organization prioritized his next contract to the point where informal talks on an extension started last month. The discussions got more serious recently.

Getting Zaitsev signed early would be a big benefit for an organization that could have a busy summer coming. The Leafs are scheduled to have more than $21-million come off the books in expiring contracts this off-season and will be searching for upgrades on their blue line.


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