It’s the middle of July and Nikita Zadorov isn’t signed by the Colorado Avalanche yet? Is it time to panic?
The answer really should be no in this situation, but considering the lack of NHL defensemen currently on the roster, I can understand a little panic, as well as a little excitement for those who are expecting Zadorov to potentially play a bigger role this season and ideally work his way into the top four (based on merit, not just necessity).
That brings us back to Zadarov’s contract, and what he should be getting paid. A convenient and handy prediction is the model created by Matt Cane, which puts Zadorov at a cap hit of just over $1.9M per year.
This is a very friendly number that is based on what he’s earned so far, and if a short or bridge deal this would be a number I wouldn’t want to see the Avs stray too far from.
It’s been reported that the two sides are in agreement that two years works best and they’re just looking for AAV. It has to be remembered though that as negotiations progress, things can change - and until a contract is signed, we can’t be 100% certain about the term.
A bad idea of how to compensation Zadarov would be to follow the Sabres by paying for what they wanted Ristolainen to turn into, rather than what he is, which is arguably not as good as Zadorov.
Ristolainen received a $5.4M AAV for 6 years and he struggles to put up third pairing numbers. The argument that Ristolainen’s minutes are tougher than a third pairing defender, and that someone like Zadorov may have similar shot suppression in those minutes, but no matter how you slice it, Ristolainen is horrifically overpaid and is a cautionary tale.
The only other defenseman who has entered his second contract from Zadorov’s draft year is Seth Jones. Jones has an identical deal to Ristolainen’s but with the difference that Seth Jones is a very good hockey player. It’s also worth noting I don’t expect Zadorov to be in the ballpark of these deals in anyway.
At this point we are looking at a pretty large range. The $1.9M from Cane is something that could work for a year or two, but I suspect both Zadorov and the Avs are more interested in term, and that could drive the number higher. The comps from his draft year are ridiculous, and we’ll throw them out.
Here are some comparisons from this season’s RFA pool, and they help establish a bit more of what is reasonable for Nikita.
Pysyk is an interesting comparison for Zadorov because they receive very similar ice time and both were on teams that missed the playoffs, the Panthers in less spectacular fashion though.
Pysyk is older than Zadorov, but preforming at a level that would be an ideal outcome for the Avs if Nikita reaches that level. Pysyk just signed for 3 years with a cap hit of $2.733M. It’s worth noting that he was previously earning $1.125M while working his way up to where he is now, similar to what Zadorov should be doing. If the Avs didn’t wanted longer term, a reasonable compromise might be 5 years at $2.13M which takes in account Pysyk’s cheap years with his current deal.
Another Panther with a similar story, though Petrovic comes in even cheaper than Pysyk, but with only one year at $1.85M.
Looking at the numbers Petrovic is marginally better than Zadorov, but he also has three years on him.
Petrovic and Zadorov do play a similar style, and that should enforce that the Avs reasonably can stay around the $2M mark. A marginal increase for Zadorov to recognize potential might be worthwhile if they can get more than a one or two year deal, but it’s becoming painfully clear they don’t need to break the bank on him.
Staying in the state of Florida for the last comparison, we’ll shift over to Tampa Bay and look at a player with nearly identical impact.
Sustr is even a little older at 26, but if we want to talk about paying Zadorov for the player he is today, Sustr’s $1.95M is a reasonable number. Like Petrovic, Sustr plays a style more similar to Zadorov, and they could both be better comparisons than Pysyk. I’m still fairly confident that Zadorov will be cashing a larger check than both of them though, if for no other reasons than Florida’s friendly tax rate makes it easier to give Sustr and Petrovic those deals.
The KHL Threat
The threat is somewhat real from Zadorov, who has expressed some interest in signing with CSKA. This is essentially using whatever leverage he has to get a better deal out of the Avs, but with the Avs retaining his rights by qualifying him, and it being an Olympic year, it’s not completely dismissible.
Might this shake loose an extra 100-200k/year from the Avs? Possibily.
Should it do more than that? Absolutely not. Zadorov at this point is still a function third pairing defender. He can be replaced.
This seems like it’s a lot of words to essentially say I agree with Matt Cane, so I won’t do that. I think Matt is right on the money for what Zadorov should get, and what his true market value is, but I believe that Zadorov will end up with more.
With the need to invest in youth on this team, the KHL threat, his potential, and the fact that it seems almost certain that Nikita will be playing a bigger role this year, I’m going to say he comes in at $2.5M.
The term is a little trickier. At $2.5M I don’t doubt the Avs would like to buy extra years out of it, but I’m going with 3 years nonetheless. It’s the longer side of a bridge deal and preserves the opportunity to negotiate with him one more time as a restricted free agent, which should be important for Colorado.