The Vancouver Canucks were recently linked to pending free agent defensemen Tyler Myers and Jake Gardiner, but have also been rumored to be interested in a trade to address their blue line. That idea popped up again today when Rick Dhaliwal of Sportsnet tweeted the Canucks are “busy working [the] phones” on the trade market. Dhaliwal specifically notes that the team has inquired on Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Nikita Zaitsev, who is apparently generating plenty of interest.
Zaitsev recently requested a trade from the Maple Leafs for personal reasons, something the GM Kyle Dubas is trying to facilitate. The 27-year old defenseman has five years left on his current deal however, which has made some speculate that Toronto may have to sweeten any deal to get him out of town. Zaitsev’s contract carries a $4.5MM cap hit, an amount that the Maple Leafs could certainly do without as they try to re-sign restricted free agents Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson, or even find some way to fit Gardiner back into the fold.
For the Canucks though, the cap situation is in a very different place. Vancouver currently projects to have more than $30MM in cap space (via CapFriendly), with twenty players already on the roster. That’s an incredible amount of room for the team even if some of it is about to be snapped up by a new Brock Boeser contract, among other restricted free agents. Spending $4.5MM on Zaitsev would hardly make a dent, even though he would immediately become their highest-paid defender—pending a new deal for Alexander Edler, who is a free agent and even though there has been positive talks between the two sides, nothing is done yet.
It would also provide some stability on the right side for the Canucks, who may find themselves in a situation where they need to trade Chris Tanev this season. The veteran defenseman is on the final year of his deal and has been unable to stay healthy throughout his career. While he is an excellent shutdown option when on the ice, the team just hasn’t been able to rely on him to that point. If Tanev doesn’t get an extension, he would become an excellent trade deadline asset for the Canucks if he was healthy at that point in the season. Behind Tanev and the younger Troy Stecher, there isn’t a ton of proven right-handed options in Vancouver.
Still, checking in on a player certainly doesn’t mean something is going to get done. Zaitsev’s deal comes with plenty of risk, and the Canucks may feel like they can address their defensive issues in other ways. What it does signal is that they aren’t going to be waiting around this summer, and are willing to make a deal to improve the club for this season. With a young core led by Boeser, Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes, it certainly makes sense to push a little harder to improve the squad this offseason.
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