Colorado Avalanche: What to Do without Nikita Zadorov

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 22: Nikita Zadorov
DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 22: Nikita Zadorov /

The Colorado Avalanche might not sign defenseman Nikita Zadorov, and that’s bad for a defense-starved team.

It’s the waning days of July, and the Colorado Avalanche still haven’t signed their remaining restricted free agent, defenseman Nikita Zadorov. According to Zadorov, he’s given the team until the end of July, presumably to either accept his proposal or make an offer he wants.

It might be time to start getting nervous. Zadorov has stated he wants to stay in the NHL and keep playing for the Avalanche. However, he’s also admitted he’s ready to defect to the KHL. That’s the danger with Russian players.

We don’t know what either side has proposed to the other except that Zadorov stated it’s a two-year bridge contract. He’s coming off his entry-level contract worth an annual average value of $1.74 million.

The 22-year-old Zadorov hasn’t proven much yet in the NHL, but he does have such a high ceiling. Just for fun, let’s say he might want a Matt Duchene-style bridge contract — the center accepted two years with an AAV of $3.5 million.

What if the Colorado Avalanche balk? Well, then, we’ll lose Nikita Zadorov, and that will be bad indeed.

What Nikita Zadorov Should Have Done for the Colorado Avalanche

Nikita Zadorov was the key piece in the Ryan O’Reilly trade:

That was a pretty good haul by the Colorado Avalanche. However, Grigorenko never panned out. They flipped that second round pick (#31) to the 39th pick of 2015 (A.J. Greer), the 40th pick of 2016 (Cameron Morrison), and the #156 pick of 2017 (Denis Smirov). Coupled with J.T. Compher, who may transform into a top-six but is a certain top-nine, that really was a good haul.

But is it enough without Zadorov? No. The Colorado Avalanche traded for defense because the Colorado Avalanche have needed help on defense since Ray Bourque retired in 2001. (Unfortunately, that’s only a slight exaggeration.)

And Zadorov has promised to be that help. He’s a big (6-foot-5, 230 pounds), smooth skating defenseman who loves to hit but can jump into the rush. With cornerstone defenseman Erik Johnson on the top pairing, he’d help create a defensive juggernaut. On the second pairing with Tyson Barrie, he’d provide the muscle and defense when Barrie went roving.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Colorado might expect the 22-year-old Zadorov to be the future of the team’s defensive corps. Johnson is 29. By the time Zadorov does stride into his prime — in a couple years — Johnson will be entering veteran status.

What the Colorado Avalanche Will Have to Do without Zadorov

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Are the Colorado Avalanche willing to put their money where their hopes are? They’ve never been a team to overpay a player, which is why the Ryan O’Reilly trade happened in the first place. And it’s a good bet Zadorov is asking for more money than Colorado wants to pay or he’d be signed already.

So, what will the Avs have to do without Zadorov? Well, they’ll have to give up any pretense that they won the Ryan O’Reilly trade, for what that’s worth.

More importantly, the Avalanche will have to find a way to shore up their defense. Without Zadorov, the Avs only have three NHL-proven defensemen:

Now, the team does have some decent defensive prospects. Chris Bigras leads that list primarily because he does have the most NHL experience (31 games). The Avalanche signed their 2015 fourth rounder, Andrei Mironov, this summer, and he fully expects to play in the NHL. (He left a lucrative KHL career.)

Colorado’s fifth rounder from 2014, Anton Lindholm, played well for the team last year in his 12 games. And maybe Duncan Siemens will finally get his chance.

But that’s a whole lot of prospects to provide the meat of an NHL team’s defensive corps. And that’s a lot of pressure to put on the youngsters.

I’d say that, if the Colorado Avalanche can’t sign Nikita Zadorov, they might have to scrape the bottom of the barrel and sign one of the defensemen currently still in free agency, probably either Cody Franson or Jyrki Jokipakka. They’ve been liking their one-year “show me” contracts this offseason, so that’s what one of those guys would probably get.

Next: Avs Shouldn't Trade Barrie

The bottom line: the Colorado Avalanche must sign Nikita Zadorov. The alternative for their blueline is too grim without him.