I was wrong about Nikita Zadorov. You were wrong about Zadorov. We were all wrong about Zadorov.
It has to be stated first that the 6’6″ Russian defenceman, acquired by the Calgary Flames for a third-round pick in the 2022 NHL draft this past summer, has been more than most of us have expected.
Sure he still has taken a lot of penalties as advertised, but he has also solidified the third-pairing with Erik Gudbrandon, created far more offensive chances than anyone could have expected, and provided an additional physical force for teams to think twice about.
Zadorov has surprisingly been the perfect addition to the team’s roster, virtually claiming his role for the entire season. He has fit perfectly under Darryl Sutter’s system, and plays his role to a tee.
He has overperformed so much in fact, that looking ahead to this summer, he may be the first casualty of the Calgary Flames’ increasingly dangerous salary cap situation.
What could Zadorov’s next contract look like, and can the Flames find a way to fit that under the salary cap? Let’s take a look:
Zadorov’s next deal
Zadorov is coming off a one-year, $3.75M contract he signed last year as a restricted free agent after being acquired by the Flames. It was a tricky negotiation, as he was arbitration eligible and filed, but ultimately avoided it with limited time to spare.
After signing the deal, this walked him right to unrestricted free agency, where he is eligible to test the market this summer. The Flames have no conditions on the third-round pick they sent to Chicago, so signing him before free agency opens would have no impact on the pick.
Zadorov will absolutely want to see what the market has to provide, and there will ultimately be suitors. The question for the Flames becomes: has he improved significantly as a player to buy in long-term, or does he fit so well within the system that he may want to stay at a lower AAV?
I think that Zadorov has benefitted greatly from Sutter’s system, so if he is looking for a major raise then the Flames should probably stay away.
When looking at similar contracts across the league, a few stand out that could be used as comparisons:
- Jamie Oleksiak (SEA): 5 years, $4.6M AAV
- Jake McCabe (CHI): 4 years, $4.0M AAV
- Adam Larsson (SEA): 4 years, $4.0M AAV
- Ian Cole (COL): 3 years, $4.25M AAV
I think these four contracts are the ultimate best case scenario for what the Flames and Zadorov could agree on. Physical defencemen, with a little bit of offence caked in, seems to cost a team between $4.0-$4.6M per season. The team would obviously want to keep Zadorov’s AAV below Noah Hanifin, Rasmus Andersson, and Chris Tanev due solely on the fact that their impact is far more than Zadorov would be.
On the open market, you know someone would give Zadorov the same contract as Oleksiak got this past summer—and honestly great for Zadorov if he manages to find a team that takes this up. I just don’t know if the Flames could afford it.
Keep an eye out on the Philadelphia Flyers this summer. They love Zadorov’s style of play, and have been rumoured to be looking to overhaul their defensive corps.
Making it work on the Flames
Using CapFriendly’s Armchair GM mode, I have thrown together a mock scenario of what could happen this summer. This includes the following:
- Signing Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk to matching eight-year, $9M AAV contracts
- Signing Andrew Mangiapane to a long-term contract at $5M AAV
- Signing Oliver Kylington to a bridge deal worth $3.5M AAV
- Buying out the final year of Sean Monahan’s contract
This leaves the team with this current roster:
Using this estimation, it would currently leave the Flames with $4.55M in cap space for next season.
Well no, because the team would still need an entire fourth line, and bottom pairing with that much money left.
Of course the Flames could find a way to trade Monaha’s entire $6.375M cap hit this summer to a team with space, but that would still just then leave them with $6.925M in cap space with the remaining five roster spots to fill (not including extras).
It makes a potential deal much harder.
Ahead of tonight’s contest, the bookies have predicted a Flames favourite, with Betway Sports pricing the Calgary Flames at -310 and the Arizona Coyotes at +280 to win the game in regulation, with an overtime decision being priced at +390.
What can the Flames do?
The Calgary Flames will be in a tough spot this summer there is no doubt about it. Depending on how this season finished, they could look to move out Milan Lucic or Mikael Backlund for some additional relief. One way or another the team is spending an asset to let go of Lucic, or creating another roster hole needing to be filled if Backlund goes.
The free agent deals may come less than we are currently assuming, but the way that all four players have been playing makes it much harder.
A situation that could easily arise would be the Flames simply moving on from Zadorov, and utilizing Connor Mackey or Juuso Valimaki full time next season. Although not the same player, they need to give both young players a NHL shot at some point.
Additionally, the team may want to use the cap space to sign Gudbranson who plays the right side and would come at a much cheaper cap hit.
The other wild card here is maybe Mark Giordano wants to return as a free agent for a very low cap hit and play the third pairing role? Although it’s unlikely, it’s not totally out of the cards.
All that being said, although Zadorov has outperformed expectations, it looks like he could be a Calgary Flames one-hit wonder.
What are your thoughts? Should the Flames re-sign Zadorov this summer? Let us know in the comments below.
Photo by: Derek Leung/Getty Images
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