Blackhawks defenseman Nikita Zaitsev’s knee injury sustained in January was more severe than previously assumed, head coach Luke Richardson said Saturday (via Ben Pope of the Chicago Sun-Times). Zaitsev sustained a bone fracture along with his knee injury and, while he’s returned to off-ice workouts, won’t return until mid-March.
The 32-year-old sustained the injury in a Jan. 16 game against the Sharks and has been out of the lineup for over a month, missing Chicago’s last 14 games. The Moscow native had two goals, five assists, seven points, and a remarkable +2 rating on a bottom-feeder Blackhawks team in 26 games, although he averaged only 15:56 per contest.
Zaitsev will be a UFA this summer after completing his albatross seven-year, $31.5MM contract extension signed by then-Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello in 2017. He has yet to sniff the career-high of 36 points he set during his rookie season with Toronto in 2016, and he’s only once posted a positive expected rating in his eight-year NHL career. If he remains in the league past this season, it’ll likely be on a league-minimum deal.
Other updates from the Western Conference:
- Sticking with Chicago, forward Andreas Athanasiou continues to progress in his recovery from a lower-body injury as he practiced in a full-contact jersey for the first time Saturday, according to Pope. The 29-year-old has not played in over three months, missing 46 games. The speedy winger disappointed through the first month of the campaign, recording four assists in 11 games and logging one healthy scratch, averaging 12:45 per game. Chicago signed him to a two-year, $8.5MM extension last summer after he racked up 20 goals and 40 points for the second time in his career last season.
- Sharks veteran blue-liner Marc-Édouard Vlasic is listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury and could miss up to a week, head coach David Quinn said Saturday (via Curtis Pashelka of the Bay Area News Group). Vlasic sustained the injury in practice yesterday and will sit after playing in 14 straight games, his longest stretch of the season. It’s been a difficult campaign for the 36-year-old Sharks lifer, who was a frequent healthy scratch through November and December as his all-around game continues to decline. Once regarded as one of the top shutdown defenders in the league, Vlasic’s 41.3% Corsi share at even strength is second-worst among full-time Sharks defenders this year, only ahead of rookie Nikita Okhotyuk. He carries a $7MM cap hit through the 2025-26 season.
- The Coyotes will activate enforcer Liam O’Brien off injured reserve ahead of Sunday’s game against the Jets, head coach André Tourigny said (via Craig Morgan of PHNX Sports). The fourth-line winger missed the last five games with an upper-body injury and had been a healthy scratch twice in the prior three games. The 6-foot-1 29-year-old is in his third season in the desert, racking up eight points and 116 PIMs in 49 games this year. Defenseman Troy Stecher, who’s been out for over a month with a lower-body injury, will not be ready to go tomorrow but could return as soon as Tuesday against the Canadiens, Morgan added. Both players are on IR, but the Coyotes have two open roster spots, so no corresponding transactions are necessary to activate them over the next few days.
- Flames winger Andrei Kuzmenko will miss tonight’s Battle of Alberta with an illness, coach Ryan Huska said (via Eric Francis of Sportsnet). The middle-six scoring winger has been up-and-down since Calgary acquired him from the Canucks in the Elias Lindholm trade, notching three goals and one assist in eight games with a -2 rating. He hasn’t seen an uptick in ice time since moving across provincial lines, averaging 14:06 per game with Calgary compared to 14:21 with Vancouver. He’s signed through next season at a $5.5MM cap hit.