Former Top-Four Maple Leafs Defenseman Heading to Russia to Continue Career


After several seasons of being a top-four, 22-minute per game defenseman for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators, with his 7-year NHL contract now at an end, it appears that unrestricted free agent Nikita Zaitsev is signing a three-year deal to head back home and play in the KHL. 

Sport Express reports that the 32-year-old is joining SKA Moscow, returning to the team that he had three successful seasons with before coming over to North America and joining the Maple Leafs. 

Zaitsev played his first three full seasons in the NHL on the Toronto blueline, averaging over 21 minutes of ice time per night and had 63 points and 421 blocked shots in 223 games from 2016 through 2019. The Leafs signed him to a seven-year, $31.5 million extension ($4.5M cap hit) in 2017. 

In '19, the right-shot D was dealt to Ottawa, where he logged big minutes for another three seasons, before being traded to the Chicago Blackhawks as a salary dump in 2023. 

He played out the string with the Hawks this season, with career-lows of 38 games, seven points and 15:56 TOI per night. He missed time due to a variety of injuries and to healthy scratches. 

Originally born in Moscow, Zaitsev returns home. 

Photo: © Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports