Calgary Flames

Predicting what a potential Nikita Zadorov trade could look like

Looking ahead to the rest of the summer and into next season, the Calgary Flames still have a number of player decisions to make. Down to six pending UFAs in 2024, the Flames have been reluctant to make any additional big moves to start off this offseason.

One name that has been quietly percolating in insider circles is that of Nikita Zadorov. Heading into what would be his third season with the team, Zadorov is an interesting pending UFA. He has fit into a very perfect role with the team, but truly flourished under Daryl Sutter’s system. 

His best season of his career was last year, but what will that look like moving forward? Despite his role on the team, the Flames need to take the Toffoli route and sell high on Zadorov before it’s too late.

What could that deal look like? Let’s take a look.

Nikita Zadorov’s player type

It may come as a bit of a shock, but Zadorov had an absolutely incredible season last year on an otherwise dreadful Flames team:

In 2021–22 he set a career high in points with the Flames, which he followed up last year setting a new mark again with a career high of 14 goals. Sure, three of them came in the final game of the season, but it still shows up on the stat sheet. 

Zadorov was given a ton of opportunity to shine in Calgary, getting to handle the puck far more than he had in his past situations. This included leading a number of entry zone rushes where he often did a great job at creating chances. This came at a bit of a cost as Zadorov’s high-risk plays sometimes resulted in goals against. Some chances were worth it, others were not.

Mix in his physical presence and Zadorov is a dream right now for most NHL general managers.

The asset management point of view on Zadorov

Zadorov was acquired in the summer of 2021 from the Chicago Blackhawks for a third-round pick in 2022. At the time, that looked to be a bit of a steep price, but it worked out quite well for the Flames. He filled a need for the team and helped them solidify their bottom pairing en route to a Pacific Division crown. The Blackhawks used that pick to select Aidan Thompson.

In any type of trade, the Flames would need to recoup at least one third-round pick or more to make it an even trade off. That being said, his value has gone up since that original deal, so it would be reasonable to expect more.

The price teams should be paying for Zadorov

Now the hardest thing about a Zadorov trade is trying to gauge a price. Prior to the NHL draft, I think some were looking for at least a second-round pick if not more for the player who has one year remaining at $3.75M. 

After the draft, that looks to have changed for the worse. The Colin Miller and Joel Edmundson deals showed just how tight some teams are to the salary cap to make this type of trade happen. Miller went for a fifth-round pick, but his salary is just $1.85M a season, while Edmundon went for a third- and a seventh-rounder with Montreal retaining 50% of his $3.5M salary. 

Despite Zadorov being a more impactful player than those two at this point in time, it would be hard pressed to find a team to take on that full salary without retention or a lower acquisition cost.

For those reasons, Zadorov will more likely be moved at the NHL trade deadline next season where prices can reset a bit. Of course, the team would run the risk of Zadorov’s value being much lower than it is now. It’s a dual-edged sword unfortunately for Calgary, but losing him for nothing isn’t an option.

Again, perhaps Zadorov is the rare case in which a 2024 UFA re-signs with the team, but that is an unknown at this point in time.

Teams to target and Zadorov trade proposals

A few teams come to mind when thinking of a Zadorov fit. 

The rumours at the 2023 NHL draft was that Toronto could have some interest in acquiring either Noah Hanifin or Zadorov for next season. Zadorov makes more sense and fills a void left by Luke Schenn on the backend. The only issue is that the Leafs have absolutely zero cap space to make this deal happen, even if Zadorov is retained at 50%. They could use their 2023 third-rounder for a deal to happen, but there is less chance this happens after the Leafs’ most recent signings. 

Despite a similarly busy start to free agency, the Florida Panthers still intrigue as a destination. Niko Mikkola is looked at as their Radko Gudas replacement, but I still think Zadorov slots in perfectly with this roster. 

Outside of the condensers, would the Arizona Coyotes or Chicago Blackhawks make sense here? Not sure they are in the mood to give up draft capital for a pending UFA, but both teams are missing a Zadorov like player on their backend. Arizona has been looking to stay competitive, and Chicago has familiarity with the player. It piques the interest slightly.

The best outcome on trading Zadorov

For Zadorov, the highest bidder should win here. Similar to Toffoli, Zadorov is coming off a career season where he scored 14 goals and showed he can be a consistent top-four defenceman on an NHL roster. The fit is less important here as it is who is willing to pay the most. 

If that is now, great. If that is perhaps waiting until the trade deadline, that may be the better option. Either way, Zadorov has an immense amount of value to a number of NHL franchises should a deal consummate.

Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire

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