A few hours after their 4-2 loss to the Washington Capitals, the door opened on a potential trade for a should-be New Jersey Devils target. Calgary Flames defenseman Nikita Zadorov requested a trade from the Canadian club, as reported by Kevin Weekes. The Flames have started off the year rocky, much like the Devils, and Zadorov has been very vocal about it. He has taken accountability in the media for the team’s lackluster performance.
Why should the Devils be all in on Zadorov? The very simple answer: he makes the defense better. Through the first month of the season, the Devils’ defense looks incredibly bad. Consistent odd-man rushes given up, lack of clearing the net of rebounds, and missed assignments have plagued a once thought Stanley Cup Contender. The loss of Damon Severson and Ryan Graves have hit harder than a late 1990s Scott Stevens open-ice hit.
Do you know who else hits like Scott Stevens? Nikita Zadorov. He is known for his open-ice hits that change the momentum of games. He does not contribute offense often, but when Lindy Ruff deploys Brendan Smith regularly, that should not matter. Smith has not scored in over a calendar year while Zadorov had a career-best 14 goals last season. Smith is consistently on the wrong end of penalties, advanced game stats, and seemingly anywhere on the ice. Zadorov is a significant upgrade on Smith.
Zadorov also fits what the Devils are trying to do on the back end. He is 6’6, 248 pounds, and is a true stay-at-home defenseman. He provides the lineup with much-needed grit and toughness. He is the type of player who will come to someone’s defense after a hit and is not afraid to mix it up. When Luke Hughes was hit and Timo Meier was high-sticked by Ross Colton, the lack of response from the Devils was alarming. Zadorov will ease those concerns.
The cost of Zadorov should not be an issue either. He is only making $3.75 million against the cap. The Devils built themselves wiggle room with the salary cap this offseason. Many people were expecting them to make another move before the season started, possibly for a goalie, and that never materialized. So the cap should not be an issue. Maybe including Smith’s deal in a potential trade will cancel out the salary swap. That is not to say it would be just Smith in a trade. That would be the biggest heist Tom Fitzgerald has ever pulled.
The trade will involve prospects and draft picks most likely, something Fitzgerald has been willing to part with since he took over as general manager. While Fitzgerald has received a lot of credit for building the forward core, he deserves just as much criticism when it comes to the current state of the Devils’ defense. He watched two of the Devils’ top five defensemen walk and thought Smith, a rookie Luke Hughes and Colin Miller would come in and replace them. Smith somehow has gotten worse and Miller has been out with an injury.
Making a move now shows Fitzgerald has a pulse on the team. From a fan’s perspective, the team will be going nowhere with the current defense. Zadorov predominately slots on the left-hand side but can be moved to the right. He can be paired with Luke Hughes on either side and ease in the rookie’s role. Zadorov also only has one year left on his contract. So if the trade is made and does not work out, you can still flip him at the deadline or let him walk in free agency.
This is an absolute no-brainer for the Devils and Fitzgerald to do. Zadorov is the perfect fit for a team with a lot of skill and no grit. Unless they are outbid to a ridiculous price, not getting Zadorov would be a failure on the Devils’ part. They are already failing by having Brendan Smith not take a seat. Getting Zadorov would help give fans peace of mind and let the team know their general manager has their back. This needs to happen before it is too late.