As Bob MacKenzie first noted during the Toronto Maple Leafs – Nashville Predators intermission, the Maple Leafs are closing to re-signing defenseman Nikita Zaitsev to a seven-year deal. Mackenzie thinks that the AAV will be around $4.5MM, something that is confirmed by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.
Zaitsev has 4G and 29A before tonight’s game against the Predators. The Russian rookie is close to breaking the Maple Leafs record for most assists by a rookie defenseman. The current record of 33A is held by Swedish defenseman—and fan favorite—Borje Salming. Despite being a rookie, Zaitsev turns 26 this year after playing his entire career with overseas in Russia.
Zaitsev is one of two Maple Leaf RFAs with arbitration rights this offseason. The other—Zach Hyman—is also having a breakout year and should be next on the Leafs’ to-do list. The Maple Leafs will have ample cap room after this season as they free themselves from over $8MM in buried contracts. Brooks Laich, Colin Greening, and Milan Michalek are all UFAs at season end.