A report dropped on Thursday that the Oilers were reportedly one of several teams (Vancouver also mentioned) that were interested in Nikita Zaitsev.
Right handed defenseman. Check.
Checks any other boxes for Edmonton. Not so much.
It isn't only the fact that the Oilers have had issues in the past with defensemen named Nikita that would make me hesitant to pull the trigger on a deal. The Oilers already have an extremely similar player in Kris Russell... a player that Edmonton should be trying to focus on removing his salary, not add a similar player for another 5 years.
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT ZAITSEV?
Zaitsev was a highly sought after free agent back in the distant age of 2015/2016. The Russian born player was tearing it up in the KHL, and when it became known he wanted to make the jump across the big pond, a number of teams jumped at the chance to sign him. Ultimately he agreed to a one year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
His first season in the NHL saw the right shot go 4-32-36 in 82GP, averaging just over 22 minutes a game. The Leafs quickly locked him up to a 7 year 4.5 million dollar deal, expecting him to be a long term option for the team moving forward.
Since then, the offensive numbers have taken a massive backseat and instead of being a top-flight offensive option, Zaitsev has turned more and more into a shutdown type of player... a shutdown player who negatively effects the play of whatever other defenseman he plays with. Ask Toronto fans what they thought about Hainsey and Zaitsev playing together.
I mentioned Edmonton already has their own Zaitsev in Kris Russell, and honestly the two players compare really well to each other.
Wow I can't believe I am saying this, but please don't trade Russell for this. Russell despite being out-chanced whenever he is on the ice, has still managed to find a way to impact offense more than Zaitsev has.
Not to say that if such a deal was occurring, it would be a Russell for Zaitsev move, but truly the players fit such a similar mold, it doesn't make sense for Edmonton to double up on that type of player. Tippett's remarks of the defensemen needing to step into the play and the avoiding defending too often does not describe either of these players.
The deal doesn't make sense for either team as well because of the cap issues that both teams face. The Leafs want to trade Zaitsev because of his albatross deal as well as where he fits in their lineup. There is no way that Toronto would take on a player like Kris Russell with his cap hit, just as Edmonton cannot afford to acquire Zaitsev without moving out a contract like Russell's.
This isn't to suggest I am calling Dreger a liar, I believe that Holland has likely inquired about a number of players on the Leafs roster, and in those conversations Nikita Zaitsev's name has come up. With the Stanley Cup officially hoisted, we are now officially into rumour season and we are all going to be hearing plenty of stories just like this across the league.
The only way I could see Zaitsev coming to Edmonton, is in a larger package where Edmonton is also acquiring a player like Kasperi Kapanen. So far Holland has been saying all the right things and I like the moves he has made in the front office so far. Bringing in another problematic contract like Nikita Zaitsev goes against the narrative he has held to thus far in Edmonton.