Nikita Zadorov was an effective big-hitting shutdown defenseman for the Avalanche.
The 25-year-old is a member of the Chicago Blackhawks now because the Avs became tired of his inconsistent play and they probably didn’t want to deal with another contract negotiation for the restricted free agent.
Zadorov, 6-foot-6 and 236 pounds, was probably destined to get traded this offseason, and Colorado found the means to do that and also win Saturday’s trade that sent scoring forward Brandon Saad to the Avs. Young depth defenseman Anton Lindholm and Dennis Gilbert were also in the four-player trade, with Gilbert coming to Colorado.
Saad, who carries a $5 million cap hit (Chicago retained $1 million), can become an unrestricted free agent after next season, but the Avs are OK with that because they probably only want to pay him for one year — before proposed new contracts for Gabe Landeskog and Cale Makar kick in. Think of Saad as Taylor Hall, the formerly prized free-agent forward who signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday.
The Avs probably exited the Hall sweepstakes Sunday because they already got a player of very similar ilk. Hall, 28, is a six-time, 20-goal scorer. Saad, who turns 28 this month, has reached 20 goals five times. They both are 6-foot-1 left-shot wingers who stand around 205 pounds.
Saad will slot in at left wing with first-line center Nathan MacKinnon and right winger Mikko Rantanen, or at either wing on Nazem Kadri’s line, with Andre Burakovsky or Valeri Nichushkin. Saad could also get plenty of minutes on the third line with J.T. Compher and Joonas Donskoi.
The Avs still need to get tougher, and meaner, this offseason — particularly because Zadorov provided those things, at times. What’s missing is a gritty forward like Kyle Clifford (who signed with St. Louis on Sunday) or Matt Martin (who remains available) to play with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Matt Calvert on the fourth line.
The Avs might further tinker with their defensive corps, or not. Maybe they are confident that 2019 first-round draft pick Bo Byram, 19, is ready for a full-time NHL role and can partner with veteran Erik Johnson. Johnson is under contract along with Sam Girard, Ian Cole, Conor Timmins and Makar. Ryan Graves is a restricted free agent scheduled for salary arbitration.
Are the Avs tough enough on the back end with Johnson, Cole and Graves? Time will tell if they go out and try to replace Zadorov’s size.
Zadorov was always an enjoyable personality to work with. I enjoyed writing about the Russian fashionista’s black, gold-starred Gucci sockless shoes during the 2018 playoffs and his remarkable return to practice just three days after undergoing jaw surgery that required two plates and nine screws last fall.
Good luck in Chicago, Big Z.