Pending UFA Nikita Zadorov unable to return to his home country

Dean Chaudhry
June 2, 2024  (5:38 PM)

Nikita Zadorov partaking pre-game warmups ahead of a tilt against the Vegas Golden Knights.
Photo credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie - USA Today Sports

Entering the summer as one of the top UFA defensemen, Nikita Zadorov is also dealing with not being able to return to his home country for fear of what may happen.

Zadorov was one of the more prominent names on the trade block this season with the Calgary Flames in the midst of a rebuild. He was also one of the first players traded during the regular season when the Vancouver Canucks acquired his services back in November.
His initial stint with the Canucks was rocky at times and there were even rumours that they might try to flip him in order to acquire Chris Tanev. However, they stuck by the 6'6 defenseman and it paid dividends for both sides as he upped his game and value with a scorching post-season run.
In 54 regular season games, Zadorov tallied 5 goals and 14 points with 102 PIMs, 124 hits, and 49 blocked shots while averaging 17:04 TOI. However, in 13 post-season games he tallied 4 goals and 8 points with 26 PIMs, 45 hits, and 18 blocked shots while seeing an uptick in his ice time as he averaged 20:09 TOI.
He was a visible, intimidating factor all throughout the post-season and had a spirited head to head matchup with Evander Kane of the Edmonton Oilers. Ultimately the Canucks bowed out of the second round in 7 games but not before Zadorov staked his claim as one of the top free agents heading into the summer.
While that may be all dandy, there is a more pressing concern for the Moscow, Russia native as he is unable to return to his home country amidst his open criticisms towards Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Last summer, Zadorov was critical of the Russian government and their war waged on the Ukraine and said that because of his stance he would not be able to return to Russia - at least with Putin still in power. Just last week, he added that "I'd be in Siberia the next day."
His family became quite fond of Vancouver and he himself has expressed his desire to remain with the Canucks but the most important priority for his new contract this summer will be term:
"For me, the main focus is the term, for sure," Zadorov told Sportsnet in a one-on-one interview after last week's year-end press conferences. "I feel like I can play until 35 or 36 easily, on a high level. I think my body can do that. It's not like I'm injury prone. I feel like I can get to another level of leadership and hockey as well when I know I'm in this team (long-term). It's just going to be easier mentally and physically as well, so I don't have to move my family around.
Obviously, there's a lot of interest in the family stuff,» the defenceman said. «But the main interest is to win the Stanley Cup. (This was) my fifth playoff... and I haven't been past the second round. I think for me, it's just to find a team or home where I have a chance to win a Stanley Cup. That's the main focus, for sure. And I believe Vancouver is one of them."
The 29-year-old defenseman should be a top priority for the Canucks this summer but they have a lot on their plate including Elias Lindhom, Filip Hronek, Dakota Joshua, and Arturs Silovs among several other impending free agents.
While he may be a player without a country right now, Zadorov will assuredly get the contract he's looking for if and when he hits the open market after a strong playoff performance.

Source: Sportsnet
Canucks face difficult decision with Zadorov's looming free agency
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Pending UFA Nikita Zadorov unable to return to his home country

Should the Maple Leafs set their sights on Zadorov this summer?

Yes, he would be the perfect addition on defence24865.6 %
No, it will be a gross overpayment13034.4 %
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