With the NHL trade deadline a week away, teams are beginning to finalize their plans for the remainder of the season as well as the summer. Thanks to a terrible slide down the standings that started at the beginning of December, the Colorado Avalanche have found themselves shifting from a team looking towards the playoffs to one that is going to be a seller at the deadline.
The team has a few pending free agents that could be sold off before February 25th, but Colorado isn’t going to get much in return for guys like Colin Wilson, Mark Barberio, or Patrik Nemeth. With that said, there is a growing belief that the Avalanche could make some noise on deadline day by dealing away a couple of their younger players - particularly pending RFAs.
The most likely of which is Nikita Zadorov.
He turns 24 this summer and fits in perfectly with the team’s young core so it would seem counter-intuitive for the Avalanche to consider moving Zadorov. He’s young, but with nearly 300 NHL games played, the big Russian is likely settling in close to the peak of his potential. While he fits into the age window of Colorado’s core, teams around the league know that the Avalanche organization isn’t as hell bent on holding onto the big Russian as many fans want them to be. Teams are calling and the Avalanche are listening.
You could probably point to a dozen teams that would be interested in Zadorov. The Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Florida Panthers and New York Islanders are four teams that are looking to add to their blueline. Zadorov would fit in with any of those teams and each would be able to put together a decent package in return.
There are a number of factors that point to Colorado’s willingness to listen to offers for Zadorov. His contract status, his fit with the team’s system and the fact that the team has a number of young defenders that are ready to make an impact over the next few years.
Zadorov’s Next Contract
As a restricted free agent two summers ago, Zadorov missed the start of training camp after what is believed to be a very contentious contract negotiation. This offseason, Zadorov is set to be an RFA once again and at 24-years of age, he is likely going to be looking for a lot more security than the two-year deal he signed last time.
A longer term deal that carried Zadorov into his unrestricted free agent years might be preferable - but it would also be more expensive.
If Zadorov is comfortable with a shorter-term deal in order to build his value has he develops, his agent is almost certainly going to point to Cody Ceci’s contract extension from last summer.
In the exact same situation as Zadorov will be this summer - a 24-year-old RFA - Ceci signed a one year deal worth $4.3m. That was a bad cap hit for Ceci then and it would be a bad cap hit for Zadorov now. With arbitration a possibility this summer, a comparable like Ceci could scare the crap out of the Avs.
Regardless of what we think Zadorov’s potential is, he is not a $4m+ defender right now and paying him that much would be a bad move for the Avs.
If the Joe Sakic is worried that the two sides are going to be far apart in their negotiations, trading Zadorov before the July 1st might be the best course of action.
The Expansion Draft
Two summers from now, the NHL is going to be adding a 32nd team. Upon their arrival, the new Seattle franchise is going to be subject to the same expansion rules as Vegas was a few years ago.
Assuming they’re still on the roster at the time, the team will protect each of Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie and Samuel Girard before Zadorov. With each team only allowed to protect three defensemen, there’s a high probability that Seattle would select Zadorov and he would be lost for nothing. Getting value for Zadorov now would be a much more appealing move for the front office.
Of course the Avalanche could decide the route of protecting more defenders but that would likely result in the loss of a player like J.T. Compher - something the organization would like to avoid.
In any trade for Zadorov, the Avalanche would likely be looking for a young, team-controlled forward that could grow into an integral part of their top-nine. A guy like Jesse Puljujarvi from Edmonton, or Anthony Beauvillier from the Islanders would be the ideal return. Maybe a more expensive forward like Tyler Toffoli could be had in return for Zadorov. If it’s the Canadiens, the Avalanche could ask for a return like Finnish prospect Jesse Ylonen and a draft pick.
Either way, the Avalanche choose to move Zadorov, it’ll likely be for help up front.
Teams are calling - and the Avalanche are listening. They’re not going to give away a young team-controlled defender for nothing, but for the right return, Zadorov could definitely be moved before next Monday’s deadline.
The Avalanche know what Zadorov is, there are many GMs that might not. He’s got the physical presence that would make a guy like Marc Bergevin or Dale Tallon drool. Cashing out now might be the best course of action for Sakic.
There are going to be fans that aren’t happy if this happens, but it’s important to remember that a trade wouldn’t be the team “giving up on Zadorov” - it would be the team attempting to maximize an asset’s value.
Right now, Zadorov would be a solid third-pairing defender on a good team. Maybe he’s got the potential to become more, but with 270 NHL games under his belt, the development curve is definitely flattening out.
Maybe there isn’t time to get a deal done or maybe Sakic isn’t hearing the type of offers that he’s expecting - we all know how patient he can be. A trade might not come this week, but where there’s smoke there’s fire so fans have to be open to the idea of moving on. Nikita Zadorov is on the trade block and his days in burgundy and blue could be coming to an end.