The Toronto Maple Leafs are most likely going to have to make a number of key moves this offseason, as they know star forward Mitch Marner is due for a contract that is likely going to pay him more than $10 million per season.
In order to find a way to fit under the salary cap, some mid-level players are going to have to be traded. One of the first to go could be 6'2", 193-pound defenseman Nikita Zaitsev, who just completed his third campaign with the Leafs.
The 27-year-old is not a huge offensive threat, with three goals and 11 assists this season. However, he can be a strong defensive force and is quite consistent and difficult for other offensive players to compete against.
The Vancouver Canucks could be one of the teams makings a bid for his services, according to Sportsnet 650 host Rick Dhaliwal. His source said their interest in Zaitsev, a plus-two player during the regular season, is high.
The key to making the deal is finding a player or draft picks for the Maple Leafs. Since Toronto is going to be quite top-heavy because they pay stars John Tavares ($11 million cap hit, per Spotrac) and Auston Matthews ($11.6 million cap hit) so much, and Marner's payday is coming, they have to win the deal when it comes to salary heading back to the team.
As a result, they are going to need minor league prospects or draft picks for Zaitsev to complete the deal.
The Russian scored 36 points in his rookie season in 2016-17, but he has not had more than 14 points since.
The Canucks could be busy on the trade front during the offseason, and one of the potential trades that has been discussed involves Vancouver forward Loui Eriksson and a potential move to the Edmonton Oilers for Milan Lucic.
Both forwards have been disappointing for their respective teams but still carry value, according to Darren Dreger of TSN. He reported the Canucks see value in Lucic because of his size and strength, even if he is somewhat on the slow side.
The Canucks have a number of fast, quick and smaller skaters, and that's why they would be interested in muscle.
Patrick Johnston of The Province added that bringing Lucic, a Vancouver native, to his home town would be seen as a positive move.
From Edmonton's perspective, the interest in Eriksson could be there because new Oilers head coach Dave Tippett used to coach the 33-year-old when both men were with the Dallas Stars. At that point, the Swede regularly hit the 25-goal mark or more.
Eriksson may not be at that level any longer, but a chance to play for a coach with whom he had success in the past could bring out the best in him once again.