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Avalanche Free Agency

Avalanche Free Agency Watch: Nikita Zadorov

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With the Colorado Avalanche season officially drawn to a close, it’s time to turn our attention to what is sure to be an interesting offseason. According to CapFriendly, the 2020-21 Avs squad has 14 members currently signed on next season, leaving some decisions for GM Joe Sakic to make on some of his uncontracted players. With an estimated cap hit of roughly $59.1 million for next season’s Avalanche, and with the NHL salary capped at $81.5 million, Sakic and Co. have roughly $22.4 million to work with…with plenty of work to do.

Colorado Hockey Now will work its way down that list of a few of the unsigned Avalanche and make a case for and against re-signing the prospective free agents, providing stats, analytical insights and opinions on the matter ahead of the opening of the NHL’s free agency period beginning on Oct. 9.


 

A couple of days ago, we weighed the pros and cons of re-signing Tyson Jost. Today, we’ll turn our attention to another restricted free agent for the Avalanche, one who is likely the only other player on the Avs roster that is more polarizing than Jost… Yes, I’m talking about Nikita Zadorov. 

The 25-year-old Avs defenseman is coming off a one-year, $3.2 million contract, in which he tallied his lowest numbers since the 2016-17 season. Of course, it was a pandemic-shortened year, and let’s be real, his job was never to put up points anyway. He’s no Cale Makar. Points matter very little in his case — it’s just an observation. His main job is to aggravate, shutdown and be an all-around pest to the opposition on a nightly basis. Something he does fairly well…for better and often times for worse.

The Good

What Nikita Zadorov does best is play physical hockey. Sometimes that gets him into trouble or out of position or into the penalty box. In fact, since joining the Avalanche in 2015, Zadorov has racked up 328 penalty minutes during the regular season, the most of any Avs player in that span. 

Since arriving in Colorado for the 2015-16 season, the one they call “Big Z” has led the team in hits….and it isn’t even close. His 887 hits is a healthy lead over next-best hitter Gabe Landeskog (639). Zadorov also ranks sixth in the NHL in regular-season hits since the 2017-18 season.

Zadorov is adored by fans and has become a favorite over his five years in Colorado. His teammates also rave about his humor and ability to keep things loose in the locker room. His character might be the only thing he has going for him these days…because defensive ability certainly isn’t.

 

The Bad

His defense. 

Unsurprisingly, Zadorov’s CorsiFor numbers were the worst of the six starting D-men on the Avs’ blueline, but not as bad as one might think. With a 50.49% CorsiFor, that’s still in the positive range. During the regular season, Zadorov was on the ice for the second-most goals against of any Avalanche defenseman. Not good, considering his only job is to keep pucks out of his net. 

Let’s take a step into the film room and examine the final goal against of the season in Game 7 of the Avs second-round series with Dallas:

Zadorov is clearly caught staring at Andrej Sekera and allows him all the time and space in the world to post up behind the net to find a wide open Joel Kiviranta for the OT winner. That play could be viewed as a microcosm for Z’s defense. Too often he got caught staring at the puck rather than playing it. Too often he was out of position. And that’s one too many times if you’re an NHL defenseman.

Here’s another example of Zadorov making an ill-advised defensive play. As he does so often, Zadorov opted to go for the big hit rather than making the smart play on the puck: 

Here you can see Zadorov could’ve easily cut that puck off from ever reaching Klingberg, but instead he pulls back at the last second and opts for the hit. Klingberg was easily able to poke the puck forward to the open Stars forward (who, by the way, was Zadorov’s man) to set up the Stars goal that put the Avs away in Game 1. 

Zadorov has had his fair share of quibbles and qualms with the coaching staff over the years. On multiple occasions throughout this past season, Zadorov was benched by head coach Jared Bednar for performance — and attitude — issues. That’s irrelevant to his defense, but an important note nonetheless.

 

The Bottom Line

While he’s adored by his teammates and fans, at the end of the day, Zadorov is just not a great defenseman. He’s been serviceable over the years, but with names like Conor Timmins and Bowen Byram ready to go by next season, there just might not be space for a guy like Zadorov anymore. I wouldn’t expect him to be re-signed…unless he’s willing to be the Avs’ seventh defenseman from here on out. 

 

Projected Contract: Not offered

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A graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder, Scott has so far spent the early parts of his young career covering Colorado hockey — from the Avalanche to the Colorado Eagles to the DU Pioneers. His work can be found across sites such as NHL.com, TheAHL.com and SB Nation, among others. Scott currently resides in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Denver, where he can sometimes be found waiting tables when he’s not writing.

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gurnblanston

Big Z fan. I would rather the Avs resign Z than Jost or Cole* (*not sure of Cole’s status) and maybe even Timmins. He is a much better skater than he gets credit for and I think part of this issue with his stats is confusion about his role and the lack of using his full skill set. With part of the problem of losing to the Stars being size and depth, why get rid of Z? I think that would be a mistake.

Ricardo

I am one of the Big Z fans, but I have to agree with you. My only concern was, “what about the physical teams such as Dallas and LV”. I guess that the Dallas series answered my questions with a negative outcome for Zadorov.

Matt Briggle

I think he’s trade bait in the next few weeks either by himself or part of a package. He has decent value on the market and could get us a good return.

hockeyhacker5

The frustrating thing about Zadorov (and overlooked in this article) is that at times he has shown flashes of being a shutdown defenseman. Let’s not forget that stretch where he was focused on the top player in several successive games and basically dominated the oppotistion. If he had consistent focus and decision-making, he’d be a valued top four D. The problem is that he can’t seem to sustain that focus for more than a few games at a time, and since this seemed to be his “make or break” season, I think he’s done in Denver.

Charlie Anderson

He was our 2nd most important D-man in the Dallas series. Timmins came in and got his bell wrung and left, he’s never shown he can do anything (besides get a head injury) in the NHL. Byram has never played a game in the NHL. The Avs are trying to win a Cup. Having a guy like Z around as your 6 or 7th D man is exactly how you win a Cup. He gets better in the playoffs, unlike Ryan Graves. So Z was overextended by overtime of game 7, yeah that’s because EJ was out and Z was… Read more »

Joseph Gauthier

As much as I agree with a lot of what you said, I think one of the big issues, is paying between $3.5-4M for a bottom pair defender. We already have Cole for that…

Big Z had stretches of being the man we all want him to be (McDavid, Pastranak, Kane, etc…sequence) but at some point, you have to ask yourself, when is it enough time for him to develop into that consistent d-man, and when do you fold your hand and move on?

I think that time, is before Halloween.

chippy play

I can understand moving on from him — but this team is short of depth at D (well everywhere). Even if they kept him they should still be adding another piece at D, and so moving him means they just have another hole to fill. I just don’t think they are going to find anything better.

Also, I think he deserves props for being willing to play hurt in the playoffs, while others were not. Sure, he had the gaffs above, but overall still better than having to dip deeper into the Barberios.

Joseph Gauthier

Big Z would most probably stay with the Avs as our 5th-6th-7th D, but not at $3.5-4M AAV, we already have Cole in that role.
While we may not get as good of a 5th-6th-7th D-man as good as Big Z, he’ll be more around the $1.5-2.5M AAV. That is acceptable.

takuma

Awesome analysis. Show and fixate on Zadorov’s 2 worst plays of the Dallas series and ignore that he was probably the Avs 2nd best D in that series.

[…] trading of Zadorov was expected. His contract was up, and the Avs just didn’t want to go long-term extension with him, especially […]

[…] has going for him these days…because defensive ability certainly isn’t.” –Scott MacDonald, Colorado Hockey Now, […]

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