Colorado Avalanche: What Contract Should Nikita Zadorov Get?

Dec 8, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Colorado Avalanche goalie Calvin Pickard (31) celebrates with defenseman Nikita Zadorov (16) after defeating the Boston Bruins 4-2 at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 8, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Colorado Avalanche goalie Calvin Pickard (31) celebrates with defenseman Nikita Zadorov (16) after defeating the Boston Bruins 4-2 at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports /

The Colorado Avalanche need to make a good contract offer to pending restricted free agent Nikita Zadorov.

Colorado Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov needs a new contract. His entry-level contract ends this summer. Zadorov had a standard three-year ELC that was worth $5.32 million with a cap hit of $894,167 and an annual average salary of $1.74 million.

Like the rest of the team, he struggled last season. He earned just 10 points, none of them goals. He was a -20 in plus/minus and a -13 in turnover ratio.

Nonetheless, the big 22-year-old is sure to be looking for a pay raise. Why? Well, to put it succinctly, he’s the future of the Colorado Avalanche blueline.

Nikita Zadorov and the Colorado Avalanche

The Colorado Avalanche acquired Zadorov as a key piece of the trade that sent center Ryan O’Reilly to the Buffalo Sabres. At the time, GM Joe Sakic stated specifically, “[Nikita Zadorov] is going to be on the back end for a good 10 years for us.”

Since then, the young defenseman has been up and down. Last year, his first with the Avs, Zadorov played just 22 games, having spent most of the time in San Antonio developing.

Last year looked like it would be better for him. He was regularly making the lineup and saw an average of 19:04 on ice per game.

Unfortunately, Nikita Zadorov’s season was cut short by an injury, a fractured ankle, he suffered in practice.

Nonetheless, it’s obvious to see why Sakic was so sold on him to begin with. First of all, he’s big and mean. Check out this huge hit he laid on Winnipeg Jets center Mark Scheifele:

Of course the Jets have to go all goon squad and double up on Zadorov.

How about the time Zadorov made San Jose Sharks winger Kevin Labanc hate life:

That’s one of my favorites.

That said, there’s more to Nikita Zadorov than big hits. He’s an agile skater with good ice vision. Now that he’s starting to learn some discipline, he can be a real force for the Avalanche on the ice.

But they’ve got to sign him first.

Nikita Zadorov Contract

More from Mile High Sticking

Historically, at least with Joe Sakic, the Colorado Avalanche take their time signing players.

Last summer Sakic, et al., took defenseman Tyson Barrie all the way through arbitration before signing him to a four-year, $22 million contract. The contract, which carries an annual cap hit of $5.5 million, was team-offered, meaning the arbiters didn’t dictate the terms.

The previous year, Colorado waited all the way until September to extend defenseman Erik Johnson‘s contract. Johnson would have been an unrestricted free agent last summer, and he would have commanded a much higher price on the free market than the $6 million annual Colorado gave him. (He wanted the term, though — seven years.)

The Avalanche don’t really have that kind of luxury this year. The Expansion Draft makes it all come about sooner. If they’re going to protect Zadorov in the Expansion Draft, they have to ensure he’s going to sign with the team. And if they don’t protect him, the Las Vegas Golden Knights are not only certain to select him but throw a bunch of money at him to ensure he signs with them.

Because Nikita Zadorov is a young Russian hockey player, you see. And young Russian players can always defect to the KHL. Indeed, according to Avs insider Adrian Dater, Zadorov has already considered that possibility, though he prefers to stay with the Avalanche.

Specifics of Nikita Zadorov Contract

The player hasn’t said, but I assume he wants what most players want — an ideal combination of salary and term. What makes that combination ideal depends on the player — Erik Johnson preferred to give up some salary for term. Former Av Paul Stastny wanted more money.

Technically the Colorado Avalanche could offer a Zadorov a middling bridge contract. That’s what they did with Barrie — two years at $2.6 million annual average value (and cap hit). After all, Big Z the Destroyer hasn’t really done anything in the NHL besides lay some big, fun hits.

However, with the lure of the KHL strong in Zadorov, and the Expansion Draft adding filip to the situation, Colorado may have to go against the grain.

I proposed to the Twitter fanbase what kind of contract they thought Colorado should offer. I used Barrie’s current and Johnson’s old contracts as options. I also used a suggestion from fellow MHSer Ross Sellers to include the terms of Nikita Zaitsev‘s Toronto Maple Leafs contract.

Here are the results of the poll:

I’m surprised most voters went with the cheapest contract on the list, Johnson’s old $3.75 million, four-year option. However, most others jumped over Barrie’s middling option and went for the one with term, $4.5 million yearly, seven years.

Now, $3.75 million does represent a pay raise over last year’s $1.74 AAV. If Zadorov cares about term, he might accept that if Colorado gave him six or seven years.

I somehow think he might prefer the cash, though. I think Barrie’s four-year contract with it’s $5.5 million price tag might be more to Zadorov’s liking. (Otherwise, why would he even be thinking about the KHL?)

Next: Zadorov Showing Good Development

The Colorado Avalanche need to keep Nikita Zadorov because of his potential to be a future cornerstone of the blueline. There really isn’t much of anyone else if he decides to defect to the KHL. Plus, if the lose Zado, they lose the Ryan O’Reilly trade.

Will Colorado overpay Zadorov? The team has a lot of cap space coming up free. Sakic has been talking about how important that is. He’s such a fan of Nikita’s that I think he might well be willing to pad his next contract, at least a little.

I’d like to see the Avalanche get away with $3.75 million, or even $4 million for around four years. However, they may have to go five-by-five — $5 million over five years. That’s not a happy place, but it might be what’s necessary.