Buffalo - May 31, 2019 - Nikita Zaitsev is looking to leave the Toronto Maple Leafs and they will try to accommodate the defenseman, general manager Kyle Dubas said Thursday.
"That will be our goal, to try to find a fresh start for him, for his own personal and private reasons," Dubas said at the 2019 NHL Scouting Combine.
Zaitsev, 27, has five seasons remaining on a seven-year, $31.5 million contract ($4.5 million average annual value) he signed May 2, 2017. He reportedly has requested a trade.
Dubas said he has met with Dan Milstein, Zaitsev's agent, but would not divulge the reason Zaitsev has for wanting to leave.
"I don't want to speculate on their behalf," Dubas said. "I think that's for Dan and Nikita to address if they want to."
Zaitsev had 14 points (three goals, 11 assists) and was fourth on the Maple Leafs with an average ice time of 20:28 in 81 regular-season games. In a seven-game loss to the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference First Round, his ice time dropped to 18:57 per game.
Dubas said Zaitsev's request does not guarantee his departure. Dubas said the Maple Leafs were happy with Zaitsev's play, particularly after defenseman Jake Muzzin was acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 28.
"Especially as the year went on, especially as he was paired with Muzzin, his value began to shine through a little bit more," Dubas said. "His penalty killing, his right shot, he plays in our top four and he's signed reasonably for a long time."
Among Toronto defensemen, Jake Gardiner and Ron Hainsey each is a pending unrestricted free agent, and Travis Dermott had offseason shoulder surgery that is expected to delay his start to next season. That leaves Morgan Rielly (82 games) and Igor Ozhiganov (53) and the only defensemen to play at least 50 games for the Maple Leafs last season (Muzzin played 30 after the trade).
Zaitsev, an undrafted free agent who made his NHL debut for Toronto on Oct. 12, 2016, has 63 points (12 goals, 51 assists) in 223 regular-season NHL games, and two assists in 18 Stanley Cup Playoff games.
He had 36 points (four goals, 32 assists) as a rookie following three seasons with CSKA in the Kontinental Hockey League.