The Ottawa Senators must avoid trading for Nikita Zaitsev

The Ottawa Senators need to build a strong defensive corps during their rebuilding phase, but one player available should be avoided at all costs.

Long-time rivals of the Ottawa Senators, the Toronto Maple Leafs are publicly seeking a trade for wantaway defenceman Nikita Zaitsev.

Zaitsev, who has spent the past three seasons in Toronto, has requested to be traded – citing personal reasons for his decision to make this request.

The Senators are likely to be a team linked with Zaitsev in this regard for a number of reasons, primarily the fact that D.J. Smith is the team’s new head coach.

Smith has coached Zaitsev over the past three seasons and knows the right-handed Russian well, making it a logical connection in trade rumours.

The fact that the Sens also need to bolster on the right side of the blueline and need to reach the cap floor are also logical reasons the team will be linked in trade talks – with Zaitsev hold an AAV of $4.5 million for the next five years and is a natural right-handed shot.

While on the face of things it looks like an easy match, general manager Pierre Dorion must avoid making any kind of trade for Zaitsev.

When Zaitsev arrived in Toronto, he was hailed as a puck-moving defenceman that would contribute heavily on offence.

His rookie season saw him earn four goals and 36 total points in a full 82-game campaign – good numbers that supported the initial perception of him.

Since then, however, Zaitsev has combined for 27 points in 141 games over the past two years – seeing his numbers drop significantly, despite averaging over 20 minutes a game on the ice.

Zaitsev is quite a physical player, throwing 428 hits and blocking 421 shots throughout his brief NHL career to date, but he often makes questionable decisions in his own end and has not shown the puck moving skills that were expected upon his return.

It should also be noted that Zaitsev played a lot of minutes on the penalty kill, operated by Smith, which posted the second-worst success rate (56%) in the playoffs this year.

Per hockey graph maestro Sean Tierney, Zaitsev’s wins-above-replacement (WAR) was also the worst of any Leafs defenceman last season – seeing people filling in for the Russian having better success than Zaitsev himself.

Cody Ceci is a player currently with the Ottawa Senators that may be the team’s best comparable – playing top-four minutes on the right side while not best suited for that role.

Ceci, however, has shown he is better at protecting the puck in possession – with Zaitsev losing the puck 56 times more than the Sens blueliner over the past two seasons.

Zaitsev’s contract may be of interest if it was a few years shorter, but committing to him for the next five years when he has been on the decline with the Leafs isn’t a sensible move to make.

Next: Ottawa Senators have a goaltender conundrum

But what do you think Sens fans? Which defencemen should the team look to acquire someone via trade? What are your thoughts on Zaitsev? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!