Maple Leafs free up money, get out from Nikita Zaitsev's contract by trading him to Senators

The Toronto Maple Leafs continue to be active in their attempt to free up money, and the latest maneuver to do just that is shipping Nikita Zaitsev to Ottawa.

The Leafs announced Monday that they've traded Zaitsev, Connor Brown, and Michael Carcone to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for Cody Ceci, Ben Harpur, Aaron Luchuk and a 2020 third-round draft pick. 

The deal comes after Zaitsev requested a trade earlier this offseason, hoping to get a fresh start somewhere other than Toronto. The 27-year-old Russian defenseman had a strong rookie campaign for the Leafs in 2016-2017 before signing a seven-year, $31.5 million extension.

However, in the two seasons following that contract, Zaitsev has struggled to live up to the promise he showed in his debut campaign and has grown increasingly frustrated with his role on Toronto's blue line. 

With this trade, the Leafs successfully shed Zaitsev's contract and essentially replace him with Ceci, who is a younger and possibly cheaper option on the right side. Ceci, 25, is a restricted free agent who will likely will not exceed the $4.5 million that Zaitsev was due to make next season. Ceci just completed a one-year, $4.3 million deal with the Sens, and he could be in line for another one-year deal to pave the way to unrestricted free agency next summer.

While they Leafs may not get a ton of immediate savings in the Zaitsev-for-Ceci swap, it's a big deal for them to get out from the commitment to Zaitsev through 2024. 

Toronto does free up some money (and acquire decent draft chip) in the remainder of the deal, though, which is pivotal for them as they continue negotiations with Mitch Marner in restricted free agency. They move Brown's $2.1 million salary off the books and only bring back $725,000 with Harpur's deal, giving them over an extra million in financial flexibility. Both players have one year remaining on their respective deals.

Brown 25, has been a decent depth piece for the Leafs over the past few seasons, though his goal-scoring took a bit of a hit last year. He finished with eight goals and 29 points in 82 games for Toronto. 

Harpur, 24, will be a depth option for Toronto's blue line. The defenseman had five points (a goal and four assists) while playing 51 games for the Senators last year, averaging over 17 minutes of ice time per game.

Carcone is a 23-year-old winger who was acquired by the Leafs in the trade that sent Josh Leivo to the Canucks. Carcone had 20 goals and 44 points in 62 AHL games with the Utica Comets and Toronto Marlies last year. 

Luchuk is a 22-year-old center who was undrafted but signed his entry-level contract in 2017. 

Pete Blackburn is from Boston, so there's a good chance you don't like him already. He has been a writer at CBS Sports since 2017 and usually aims to take a humorous and light-hearted approach to the often... Full Bio

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