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Ex-Leafs defenseman Nikita Zaitsev officially heading home


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Matt Garland
May 21, 2024  (9:01)
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Nikita Zaitsev
Photo credit: USA Today

Former Maple Leafs defenseman Nikita Zaitsev has made a huge career decision following the conclusion of the 2023-24 season.

The Toronto Maple Leafs originally lured the Russian blueliner to North America for the 2016-17 season and he made an immediate impact, scoring 4 goals and 36 points in 82 games, while averaging 22:01 in ice time.
Leafs management thought they had a cornerstone piece on their hands and wanted to keep him in the fold long-term, signing Zaitsev to a lucrative seven-year $31.5M deal. At the time, Toronto management thought they completed some tidy business, locking up a key piece on the blueline. As we all know, though, it was a huge mistake.
Zaitsev failed to replicate his offensive numbers from his rookie NHL season and after one more season in Toronto he would be traded in the summer of 2019 to the Ottawa Senators.
He would still log some big minutes in Ottawa for a couple of seasons before seeing his role shrink which led to Zaitsev being shipped to the Chicago Blackhawks to clear cap space. Ottawa gave Chicago a 2023 second-rounder and a 2026 fourth-rounder to facilitate the deal.
Bad injury luck would follow Zaitsev to Chicago which led to the Russian native to having a tumultuous final season in the windy season. He would be a healthy scratch on multiple occasions along with missing time because of an upper-body injury, illness and a knee issue. Zaitsev appeared in only 38 games scoring 7 points and averaged a career low 15:55.
After a tough season in North America, Zaitsev has decided to return home to his homeland, signing a three-year deal with SKA Saint Petersburg in the KHL.
The 32-year old leaves the NHL having played eight seasons and 482 games.
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MAY 21   |   437 ANSWERS
Ex-Leafs defenseman Nikita Zaitsev officially heading home

Which deal was Toronto's worst in recent history?

Mike Komisarek (2019, 5x$4.3M)276.2 %
David Clarkson (2013, 7x$5.25M)32774.8 %
Nikita Zaitsev (2017, 7x$4.5M)5211.9 %
Other317.1 %
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