This past summer, one of the major storylines for the Colorado Avalanche was the contract negotiations of Nikita Zadorov. The 22-year old defenseman was a restricted free agent and wasn’t re-signed until training camp began. What seemed like easy contract negotiations turned into a summer of KHL rumors and reports of an absurdly small amount of money being haggled over.
A day into training camp, Zadorov and the team eventually agreed to a 2-year deal worth $2.125m per season. Everything seemed fine and we could now pencil Zadorov into the team’s top-4 as he continued his development towards becoming a foundational piece of the team. If only it were that easy.
He started the season as a healthy scratch under the excuse that he had to get into “playing shape” after reporting to camp late. Sure, that’s believable. Unfortunately, when he did get into the lineup, Zadorov has not been good at all. And now he finds himself not only in the press box on game nights but very clearly in the doghouse of coach Bednar.
Bednar is choosing top play youngsters like Andrei Mironov and Patrik Nemeth in Zadorov’s place - and quite frankly, given the way Zadorov has looked this season, he doesn’t exactly deserve much playing time.
The Avs need to find out what they have in youngsters like Mironov, Nemeth and Chris Bigras. As long as Zadorov is playing so poorly, it’s easy an easy excuse to get them in the lineup.
Nikita Zadorov was expected to play most of the season on the top pairing with Erik Johnson - and that’s where he’s been most of the time when in the lineup. Unfortunately, when you look at the numbers, that is the worst place for him. Johnson's play is dragged down significantly when he’s on the ice with Zadorov.
So what do the Avalanche do with Zadorov?
He is a healthy scratch for the third straight game tonight and as long as the team is playing well he’ll likely remain there for the foreseeable future.
There was an idea from someone that covers the team that maybe putting Zadorov into Matt Duchene trade talks would be the best course of action. This makes some sense if only that it would make another team feel more comfortable giving up a high-end roster defender in exchange for Duchene knowing they have an NHLer to plug into their blueline. The problem is that it’s hard to see Zadorov having much trade value around the league right now. He’d be nothing more than insurance and wouldn’t improve the return for Duchene much - if at all.
He’s only 22-years old so giving up on him now isn’t a legitimate option. If he does have any significant trade value, that’s something that should definitely be explored. The problem is that it’s not likely there is enough to justify moving him.
At this point, there really isn’t anything to do besides waiting to find a chance to get him back into the lineup. The team has a back to back on the weekend followed by the long trip to Sweden so it’s safe to assume we’ll see Zadorov back in the lineup soon.
Once here’s there, Bednar has to stay away from falling back into the trap of putting him with EJ. The team will be on the road so playing him in the bottom pair to isolate matchups might not work. The best option might be to put him on the left side of Tyson Barrie and insist that Zadorov be the steady, simple defender that sits back while Barrie has the puck. That’s what Zadorov’s game needs right now - simplicity.
For now, it seems like the coaching staff is handling him properly. They want to win games and to do that, sitting Zadorov is a necessity. When they do put him back into the lineup, they can’t give into the temptation to overplay him.
Given his history in the league, it’s easy to forget how young he is. Treat him like you would any other 22-year old defender. It’s a problem that won’t rectify itself until Zadorov finds his game - something that the Avalanche have to hope happens sooner rather than later.