Despite having only turned 26 in April, Nikita Zadorov is already primed to sign his fifth NHL contract.
The bruising 6’6″ defenceman became a Flame on Jul. 28 as part of a trade that saw Toronto’s 2022 third-round pick, previously acquired in the David Rittich trade, transferred to Chicago.
Zadorov’s tenure in Chicago lasted just one season. After being sent from Colorado to Illinois last October in exchange for Brandon Saad, Zadorov immediately signed his one-year, $3.2 million qualifying offer and played 55 games in Chicago’s colours.
The Avalanche had previously signed Zadorov to another one-year, $3.2 million contract in the summer of 2019. Two years earlier, Zadorov signed a two-year pact with Colorado carrying an average annual value of $2.15 million.
While Zadorov’s cap hit has gradually increased or remained constant from one contract to the next, his teams have not yet demonstrated a willingness to lock him down on a long-term deal. To this point, Zadorov’s longest NHL contract has been the standard entry-level deal he signed with the Buffalo Sabres back in 2013.
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It’s now Calgary’s turn to negotiate a contract with Zadorov. The versatile left-handed Russian has just one season of RFA status remaining before he turns 27 and becomes eligible for unrestricted free agency in 2022.
Chicago tendered Zadorov a one-year, $3.2 million qualifying offer on Jul. 25. A contract with those terms would take Zadorov directly to UFA next summer.
On Aug. 5, Zadorov filed for salary arbitration. His hearing is scheduled for Aug. 26 but he can still come to an agreement with the Flames prior to that date.
As Zadorov is entering his final year of RFA status, he can only receive a one-year contract through the arbitration process. If Zadorov were to receive an arbitration award of greater than $4,538,958, Calgary would be able to walk away from the ruling; as a result, Zadorov would become an unrestricted free agent.
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If Zadorov reaches his scheduled hearing date without a contract, he and the Flames will have to present the arbitrator with preliminary asking prices. Jakub Vrana and the Detroit Red Wings recently submitted initial asks of $5.7 million and $3.65 million, respectively; prior to the hearing, the two sides settled on a three-year contract with an AAV of $5.25 million.
Regardless, it’s unlikely Zadorov’s scheduled hearing takes place. Of the 15 previous players to file for arbitration during Brad Treliving’s tenure as Flames general manager, only two (Lance Bouma and Brett Kulak) participated in a hearing while the rest settled in the preceding days and weeks.
If the two parties end up settling through arbitration, it’s possible the resulting figure could come in lower than Zadorov’s $3.2 million qualifying offer. In that case, expect a one-year deal with an AAV somewhere between $2.25 million and $2.75 million.
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While a one-year deal for Zadorov is certainly possible, it seems more likely he’ll sign for three or four years. Evolving-Hockey projects Zadorov as being 43% likely to sign a three-year deal with an average annual value of $2.892 million. The same site forecasts a $3.219 million AAV for Zadorov on a four-year contract and $2.436 million on a one-year pact.
Any of those deals would make Zadorov the Flames’ fourth-highest-paid defender; Noah Hanifin, Rasmus Andersson, and Chris Tanev all earn between $4.5 million and $5 million. A $3.2 million AAV contract for Zadorov would leave Calgary with $8.23 million in cap space and five remaining RFAs, including Dillon Dube and Juuso Valimaki.