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Evaluating Cody Ceci vs. Nikita Zaitsev

November 8, 2019, 10:37 AM ET [24 Comments]
Michael Stuart
Ottawa Senators Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
When the Ottawa Senators acquired Nikita Zaitsev from the Maple Leafs in a deal that sent Cody Ceci to Toronto, most of the hockey world laughed. While Toronto’s response to Ceci’s play so far this year has basically been along the lines of “meh, this was expected,” Ottawa’s response to Zaitsev’s play has been far more positive.

To say that the positive response garnered by Zaitsev in Ottawa has surprised me would be to understate things. My working theory is that the positives generated by shipping Ceci out the door have resulted in belief bias when it comes to evaluating the return – i.e. thank goodness Ceci is gone, [Player X] must be better. Unfortunately, the underlying numbers simply don’t support the level of enthusiasm that much of Ottawa seems to have for the 28-year-old defender:


The picture painted by the chart above is bleak, to say the least. The returns that Ottawa is getting from their lengthy, expensive investment in Zaitsev are absurdly low, if not negative. For a team that is reluctant to spend money, it’s really not a good fit.

Of course, when comparing Ceci and Zaitsev as above it’s important to note that the Maple Leafs are significantly better than the Senators. Perhaps the stark contrast suggested in the aforementioned chart is just a function of that factor? We can take a look at the five-on-five relative numbers compared to teammates as a means of evaluating:


The conclusion doesn’t change. Maple Leafs fans have been largely correct in their assessment of Ceci – he isn’t particularly good, and has performed as expected. Ottawa’s assessment of Zaitsev, on the other hand, has missed the mark completely; it’s off by a postal code or two.

With the Senators aiming to be bad this year, performance like this from Zaitsev doesn’t do much to deter the team from its goal. The problem, though, is that DJ Smith has basically tied Zaitsev to Thomas Chabot with an unbreakable bond. The results for Chabot have been less than desired, which is concerning given the level of investment the team just committed to him earlier this year. It would be incredibly detrimental to his development to continue in a role that sees him paired with a player who simply isn’t adding anything to the equation.

The purpose of this blog isn't to re-litigate the trade as a whole. There were lots of moving pieces in that deal, and there's little doubt that Ottawa would make the deal again. Rather, the purpose is to target some of the spin suggesting that Ottawa landed a massive upgrade on defence in addition to those other pieces.

In summary, Ceci has been a whole lot better for the Maple Leafs than Zaitsev has been for the Senators. The swap hasn’t worked out for Ottawa in any discernible way. The only question left to decide is whether Connor Brown was enough of an added piece to make taking on the burden worth it.

As always, thanks for reading.
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