Entering the low season, everyone knew that the Toronto Maple Leafs would have to move some salary to sign Mitch Marner and have their entire core locked up in the early years, and now we know that two of the names that could be moved are Patrick Marleau and Nikita Zaitsev , both by player request.
Marleau is at the end of a career near Hall of Fame, but he shouldn't get much for what he can do now with the hat he wears.
Zaitsev however is a little joker. He will be 28 years old when the next season will be less than a month, signed up to 2023-24 for $ 4.5 million per season. The general opinion is that Zaitsev is overpaid for what he brings, but the average salary for a player of a team that spends on the cap these days is about $ 3.61 million, so if he is an average player, he is just doing a minimum average salary contract, which is not so bad.
Combining the fact that the contract value decreases with the increase in the salary cap, the confidence Mike Babcock has placed in him over the last three seasons – playing more than 20 minutes per game last season after playing 22 or more of the previous ones – and it shouldn't be surprising that there is a bit of a market for him
The right-wing defenders always seem to have a value, and there must be some curiosity for Zaitsev's rookie season, where he was given a little more opportunity to offend and managed to earn 36 points.
Is Zaitsev a rough diamond stifled by the role Maple Leafs forced him to defend other talented offensive defenders like Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner? We can dig into the data to find out.
One of the first things I go to get the feeling of a player's place in the league as a whole is the positional positioning project I do for Sportsnet in the summer. Obviously, the data has not yet been compiled for this season, since I do it during the low season, but we can see how his first two seasons of the NHL were classified against his peers.
It is possible to get a detailed description of what is found in this chart here, but in essence what we are looking at is where Zaitsev is placed in a plethora of categories among his peers both as a positive impact percentile, and in the player's percentage of tip of the position score.
Backed by his beginner season, Zaitsev's greatest strength as a player was his ability to take part in the offensive, ranking as a second-tier high-end defender, but after another season similar to his second year, this will probably have dropped considerably once the numbers are all creaking.
The minutes in which Zaitsev plays are between the second pair of high-end and the first pair of low-end in terms of difficulty, which, if viewed separately for visualization purposes, are already taken into account in the other metrics.
Even taking into account those difficult moments, Zaitsev's impact on the transition and defense for the Leafs in the first two seasons of his career was that of an average defender in pairs. This is not very promising, and its overall impact has been added to the 139th of the 191 defenders eligible for the project, placing it just outside the range of the four defenders, which ends at 124.
This is not great news for the Leafs in trying to get value for a player who is paid as a low-level defender number 3, but does not include last season, so let's take a look at some key statistics from 2018 -19 to see if c & # 39; s more for Zaitsev than it seems.
Comparing Zaitsev with his Leafs teammates, things don't look so good.
Last year the defender of No Leafs was less involved in the crime than Zaitsev was – even Ron Hainsey used to intervene more often. In fact, of the 161 defenders who played at least 800 minutes in the 5-to-5 last season, no defender completed fewer offensive passes for 20 minutes than Zaitsev.
Complaining about a Russian publication, Zaitsev said that he was not given the chance to play in the offensive zone, he asked to change as soon as the Leafs gained the zone in favor of other defenders. It could be a real thing that the Toronto technical staff did occasionally with Zaitsev, but it's something we can verify.
Last season, Zaitsev spent 37.6% of his ice time in the offensive zone, 39.8% in the defensive zone and 22.6% in the neutral zone. While it may seem inclined towards the defensive zone, it is a relatively average zonal deployment for a defender. He spent the same percentage of his ice time in the offensive area of Brady Skjei, Nick Leddy, Darnell Nurse and Nate Schmidt.
Obviously, Zaitsev didn't spend much of his ice time in Rielly's offensive zone, but he gained a lot of time on the ice, and it's clear from the individual contributions of Zaitsev that he wasn't very good at moving the record.
One of the areas in which Zaitsev improved last season was the completion of the season tickets, he was even ahead of the team average for the first time, but he was far behind in the elongated passes and in the complete passes. He also had the highest turnover rate in the defensive zone of all Leafs defenders last season, so it's not like he's an excellent record manager by any means.
In addition to all this, Zaitsev was a winner of the lower than average Leafs battle, an area in which they fought anyway, and the most important question for me is not whether he could be a top-four defender , but why Babcock trusted him so much.
Every time you trade a defender who plays heavy minutes for your team, you want to get a certain value, but this is difficult. Perhaps the Leafs can find a team that sees it well & # 39; and is willing to pay more than it should, but return expectations should be relatively low.