The pipeline between the KHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs has been running one way this offseason, with Egor Korshkov and Ilya Mikheyev leaving Yaroslavl Lokomotiv and Avangard Omsk and signing entry-level contracts, but on Friday it went the other way, as defenseman Igor Ozhiganov signed a two-year deal with Ak-Bars Kazan.
Ozhiganov, 26, signed with the Leafs last May after playing eight seasons in the KHL, and scored seven points (3 goals, 4 assists) in 53 NHL games, but never played more than a limited role on the bottom pairing during the season and was scarcely used after the acquisition of Jake Muzzin in late January.
The big Russian did not appear to be in the Leafs plans going forward and when CSKA Moscow dealt his rights to Ak-Bars Kazan last month, that signaled the blueliner would be returning home. It is possible however that Toronto will make a qualifying offer to Ozhiganov (who is a restricted free agent) to retain his NHL rights, as they did with forward Miro Aaltonen when he left for the KHL last spring.
Trade season will kick into gear next month before the NHL Draft in Vancouver and through the free agent signing period in early July, and it is expected that Leafs GM Kyle Dubas will be quite busy.
Brown has been utilized as a jack-of-all-trades by Mike Babcock over the last two seasons, shifting up and down the lineup, playing in a defensive role and as a penalty killer, and that has come at the cost of his offensive numbers.
The former OHL scoring champ scored 20 goals as a rookie and signed a three-year, $6.3 Million contract extension in 2017, but has just 22 goals in 164 games over the last two seasons. His $2.1 Million cap hit is seen as a luxury that the Leafs cannot afford with Mitch Marner, Andreas Johnsson, and Kasperi Kapanen needing new contracts, but the Leafs would only be saving slightly over $1 Million by replacing Brown with a player on an entry-level contract.
Speculation prior to the trade deadline indicated that the Leafs and Edmonton discussed a trade for Brown, but the return was rumored to be defenseman Matthew Benning or forward Jujhar Khaira.
Zaitsev’s name has been circulating since the middle of last season, but the fact that he is the club’s only right-handed defenseman and has another five years remaining on a seven-year, $31.5 Million contract ($4.5 Million AAV) would seem to be large hurdles to moving the 27-year-old, unless the Leafs are willing to include a draft choice or prospect to get another team to take on his deal.
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