Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman is reporting he’s hearing a trade might not happen for a few days, while Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston says there is a belief restricted free agent blueliner Cody Ceci could be headed back to the Maple Leafs.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) June 29, 2019
Zaitsev had a rough 2018-19 campaign, finishing with 14 points in 81 games and in late May it was revealed the Russian was available to be moved this off-season.
The 27-year-old has five years left on the seven-year, $31.5-million contract former Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello gave him in 2017 after three standout seasons with CSKA Moscow in the KHL.
As part of that deal, Zaitsev is owed a $3-million signing bonus on July 1 (Monday), so it would benefit a team like the Sens to wait until Toronto pays out the bonus.
The Senators currently have more than $33 million in salary cap space, so fitting Zaitsev’s $4.5-million average annual value on their books wouldn’t be an issue.
Zaitsev led the Maple Leafs in both hits and blocked shots in 2018-19, but his defensive lapses, particularly late in the season and during the playoffs, overshadowed most of the positive things he did with or without the puck. He had a team-high 11 turnovers in his club’s seven-game series against the Boston Bruins.
D.J. Smith was hired as Senators head coach in May after several years working as an assistant in Toronto so Ottawa’s bench boss is familiar with what Zaitsev is capable of.
Ceci, the 15th-overall pick from the 2012 NHL Draft, tied his career high with 26 points in 74 games in 2018-19, while averaging 22:34 minutes of ice-time per game. The 25-year-old made $4.3 million last season and is in need of a new contract.
It’s unknown at this time what else might be included in the potential trade, but it’s no secret the Maple Leafs have cap issues and clearing space remains a priority with restricted free agent Mitch Marner in line for a massive payday.
Forward Connor Brown’s name has been bandied about in trade rumours as the Leafs could use the extra $2.1 million, which is Brown’s AAV until he becomes and RFA next summer.
Zaitsev, who has a modified no-trade clause, is the only Maple Leafs blueliner not named Morgan Rielly who’s currently signed beyond the 2019-20 campaign.
The team is expected to lose pending unrestricted free agent Jake Gardiner on the open market. Fellow pending UFA Ron Hainsey’s time in Toronto could also be up. The team signed Martin Marincin to a one-year deal Saturday. Jake Muzzin is entering the final year of his contract before reaching UFA status, while Travis Dermott is entering the final year of his entry-level deal.