Calgary Flames

Breaking down the Calgary Flames’ decision to re-sign Nikita Zadorov

During an uneventful first day of free agency for the Calgary Flames, where the big unrestricted free agent (UFA) signing of the day for the Flames was Kevin Rooney and we all watched Gaudreau end up in Columbus, it was nice to see a couple re-signings.

First, the Flames announced they re-signed Trevor Lewis for another year at $800K. Lewis has familiarity with head coach Darryl Sutter and can grind and contribute on the PK, so another year can’t hurt, especially when it’s near league minimum. The other player re-signed by the Flames was Nikita Zadorov, who tested the market but ended up re-signing with the Flames on a two-year, $3.75M average annual value deal. That AAV is the exact same contract he was on last year, just an extra year added.

It is no secret where the Flames find themselves right now in terms off cap space. They have roughly $20M in cap space at the moment, with restricted free agents (RFA) Matthew Tkachuk, Andrew Mangiapane, and Oliver Kylington still needing to re-sign, and another forward spot available that will likely be taken by a UFA signing.

Using qualifying offer values for all of the Flames’ RFAs and assuming the UFA forward signs for around $2.5 million, the Flames would be capped out completely. The Flames could look into shipping out assets along with Lucic or Monahan to create some more cap space, but for now, let’s just assume everything stays the course. So was spending $3.75M on a third-pairing defenceman the best course of action in a flat salary cap world? Let’s look into it.

Zadorov’s performance from 2021–22

At the start of the 2021–22 season, Zadorov was not a good fit with the Flames, and found himself as a healthy scratch early on. However, when he came back into the lineup, he really settled into his role and became the player the Flames sought out and acquired for a third-round pick last year.

Zadorov was acquired as a defensive defenceman who can throw the body and grind opposing players down, but he lacked offensive ability. Over time, Zadorov settled in and played that defensive role he was brought in to play, and although he took way too many penalties, he really became a good defensive third-pairing defenceman.

One thing that developed throughout the year was Zadorov’s offensive game. Zadorov set a career-high with 22 points and seemed to transition the puck from his own zone into the opposing zone with ease. Zadorov had always had really nice defensive impacts, especially close to the net, but the offensive zone was a blackhole when he stepped foot on the ice.

This past season, he graded out as just above-average in the offensive zone, while continuing to provide significant defensive impacts. Zadorov is a great example of the significant positive effects that Darryl Sutter can have on a player, and with another year under Sutter’s helm, can become an even better defenceman.

Just looking at signings that happened during free agency, the Zadorov contract looks pretty good. Zadorov’s defence partner for most of the past season Erik Gudbranson left and signed a four-year, $4M AAV deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets, the same amount of money and term as Nick Leddy signed for with the St. Louis Blues. Ben Chiarot signed a four-year, $4.75M AAV deal with the Detroit Red Wings, and Josh Manson re-signed with the Colorado Avalanche on a four-year, $4.5M AAV deal.

Looking at those four players, I would definitely be in favour of signing the younger Zadorov to less term and AAV. The only defenceman who I thought signed a better deal than Zadorov was Brett Kulak, who signed a four-year, $2.75M AAV deal to stay with the Edmonton Oilers.

Zadorov comments in the media upon re-signing

The Zadorov interview on Sportsnet 960’s Flames Talk segment was a breathe of fresh air for Flames fans, especially with the tough experience that we all went through after Gaudreau left. I highly recommend that Flames fans check it out. It is not easy to watch the face of your franchise leave for nothing when you are in a competitive window and made him an extremely competitive offer.

Zadorov came right in and mentioned his decision-making process and why he wanted to re-sign with Calgary, and the immense positive effects that he experienced while playing with the team. He mentioned that he loved the city of Calgary and their fans, and it seemed like everywhere he went someone was talking about hockey.

Zadorov also mentioned the fact that Calgary has some unfinished business after the tragic ending to the season, and wanted to be a guy contributing to the Flames again. It was also revealed by Zadorov that the Flames expressed interest from the start and told him that they would have a contract offer for him no matter what happened, showing just how important Zadorov was to the team last year and how the Flames desperately wanted to keep him.

When asked about playing in Canada, Zadorov mentioned that it was so different in a good way, and referred to hockey as our religion because we like it so much. He continued to praise playing under Darryl Sutter, which makes sense, as Sutter really helped him turn into form and improve offensive game.

Was signing Zadorov a good decision?

In short form, I think signing Zadorov for another two years was a good idea for the Flames, as defence is a very important position that can come at a premium, and it is important to build up positional depth. The significant offensive steps and continued good defensive impacts—coupled with the fact that Zadorov is still young and didn’t receive much term—shows how good this signing could work out to be.

At a time where your franchise player just left for nothing, it was also important to hear that Zadorov wanted to stay here and probably took a bit of a discount on the term to stay here, considering his reported ask in free agency was similar to what Gudbranson ended up getting.

Zadorov’s bubbly personality makes it really easy to root for him, and with the huge steps he took next year, I can see him grabbing the penalty kill spot that Gudbranson left and becoming an even more important piece to this Flames team. At $3.75M AAV for another two years, I think this signing is relatively low risk, considering the year Zadorov had last year and looking at comparable contracts that other free agents received on the first day of free agency.

One other thing to note that pops out to me with the two-year deals for Zadorov and Rooney is some further speculation to what Calgary’s plan is going forward. The Flames have a lot of expiring contracts in two years. Lindholm, Toffoli, Backlund, Dube, Rooney, Tanev, Hanifin, Zadorov all have their contracts expire in exactly two years. That is going to be a very busy summer for Brad Treliving (if his contract is extended beyond this year) and the same goes for Darryl Sutter.

Let’s wait and see how the Flames set the tone for what the team will do going forward over the course of the offseason.

Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire

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