Blackhawks acquire two draft picks for taking Nikita Zaitsev in trade with Senators

Zaitsev carries a $4.5 million salary-cap hit through the end of next season, but the Hawks received a 2023 second-round pick and a 2026 fourth-round pick in exchange for taking his contract Wednesday.

SHARE Blackhawks acquire two draft picks for taking Nikita Zaitsev in trade with Senators
Former Senators defenseman Nikita Zaitsev delivers a hit.

The Blackhawks acquired former Senators defenseman Nikita Zaitsev on Wednesday.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP

DALLAS — The Blackhawks added two draft picks and an active NHL player in exchange for nothing Wednesday, hours before their 4-3 victory against the Stars.

General manager Kyle Davidson’s first move of the trade-deadline period couldn’t have turned out much better.

Jettisoned in a salary dump by the Senators, overpaid veteran defenseman Nikita Zaitsev, 31, is headed to the Hawks. Zaitsev carries a $4.5 million salary-cap hit through the end of next season.

As a reward for taking him, the Hawks also received the Senators’ second-round pick in 2023 and fourth-round pick in 2026. The trade was officially for “future considerations,” which means nothing.

“We are getting an NHL-caliber defenseman and acquiring very valuable draft capital in this upcoming draft and beyond,” Davidson said in a statement. “Nikita gives us added depth on the right side [of the defense], and we anticipate him joining us soon.”

Zaitsev signed with the Maple Leafs as a Russian free agent in 2016 and has played in 426 games for the Leafs and Senators since, including 28 games — with five assists — this season. His analytics have rapidly gone downhill, though. His five-on-five scoring-chance ratio has sat below 47% for four consecutive seasons.

Immigration paperwork might cause a slight delay, but he’s expected to join the Hawks soon, according to a source.

The Hawks now hold two first-round, three second-round and two third-round picks in this summer’s draft, with more likely on the way from additional trades in the coming weeks. They already own six picks in the first three rounds of the 2024 draft, as well.

More trade buzz

Davidson is anything but finished after dipping his toes in the trade waters.

Patrick Kane is making his job simultaneously easier and harder, for one thing. On the ice, Kane is riding a hot streak, proving he’s still the same deadly offensive weapon he always has been and boosting his value.

He erupted for three points in less than eight minutes in the second period Wednesday, setting up Max Domi for a goal before scoring two himself to rally the Hawks from a 3-0 deficit to tie the score. He has notched double-digit points in his last four games.

Off the ice, however, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported Wednesday that if Kane informs the Hawks that he’s willing to be traded — and that will happen soon if it happens at all — he likely will give them only one acceptable destination. 

That will put the Hawks in a difficult negotiating position with virtually zero leverage, reducing how much they’ll be able to get in return, but Davidson has repeatedly insisted he’s happy to respect Kane’s wishes.

It’s possible the Rangers might not be out of the Kane conversation, after all, despite their acquisition of Vladimir Tarasenko this month and Kane’s public disappointment at the time. The Rangers would have to get extremely creative with cap hits to fit him in, but the New York Post’s Larry Brooks reported that they’re trying to find a way to make it viable.

Meanwhile, Zaitsev adding “depth” could help the Hawks move on more easily — from a personnel standpoint — from Jake McCabe, who has been heavily discussed in rumors recently.

So has forward Sam Lafferty, who has particularly appealed to teams looking for penalty-kill help. He’s tied for the NHL lead in short-handed goals with four. He and McCabe dressed as normal, though.

Plenty of other players on the active roster can’t be ruled out of trade possibilities, either — nor can additional instances of weaponizing cap space to take on other teams’ bad contracts.

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