Over the course of the next month, Chicago Hockey Now will be profiling every Chicago Blackhawks player from the 2022-23 season. Today, will be defenseman Nikita Zaitsev
Games Played: 46
(Goals – Assists – Points with Chicago): 1-2-3
Contract Status: One Year Remaining – $4.5M Cap Hit
The Short View
Zaitsev came to Chicago via trade with Ottawa for a 2023 second-round pick and a 2026 fourth-round pick. It was a good haul by Kyle Davidson considering that Ottawa had been overly desperate to unload Zaitsev, going as far as putting him on waivers without a team biting. In 18 games, Zaitsev had three points, one being a goal.
Between the contract status and what was brought in via acquisitions, Chicago won the trade by a mile. Zaitsev not only gave them draft capital but also another defenseman depth wise.
The Long View
So there’s a couple routes to go. Zaitsev has a season left with a $4.5M cap hit, which will help get them at the cap floor. If Davidson and the front office decide he’s no longer part of the plans, they can buy him out. The current year would cost $2.83M but the following season would be a paltry $833.3K. Again in the current season, if the Blackhawks decide it’s time to cut bait, would only be $1.7M less than the original contract hit. If the Blackhawks go full out during the 2024-25 season and start pushing the cap, the $833.3K will barely affect them.
Everything depends upon the coaching staff and front office’s view of where he fits in. We’ll find out soon where that is.
The Bottom Line for Nikita Zaitsev
It goes one of two ways here: Zaitsev either fits in as one of the three pairings or he is bought out to make way for a new crop of younger players or defenseman acquired via trade or free agency. Chicago has to hit the cap floor and they’re still short as of now. Zaitsev’s $4.5M helps get them there, and from a financial standpoint, it makes sense to keep it on the books.
They have to ice a team no matter what and Davidson has been clear that the rebuild is on, anticipating Connor Bedard as the presumed first overall pick. Regardless of where they choose to go, Zaitsev has more than paid off his value with the acquisition of the picks. Anything from there is a bonus–be it a buy out that lowers the cost or Zaitsev playing a role in a top three pairing next season.
Previous Blackhawks Bottom Line Entries: Jonathan Toews | Andreas Athanasiou | Tyler Johnson | Seth Jones | MacKenzie Entwistle | Taylor Raddysh | Connor Murphy | Petr Mrazek | Patrick Kane | Jason Dickinson | Ian Mitchell