Blackhawks Business: What To Do With RFA Nikita Zadorov

Nikita Zadorov #16, Chicago Blackhawks Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Nikita Zadorov #16, Chicago Blackhawks Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /

Part of the Chicago Blackhawks’ offseason will involve the evaluation of pending free agents. In this episode of Blackhawks Business, we will take a look at Restricted Free Agent (RFA) Defenseman Nikita Zadorov

Nikita Zadorov joined the Blackhawks through the trade of Brandon Saad with the Colorado Avalanche during last offseason. When the trade was made, Stan Bowman talked about the size and physicality of Zadorov, and how they hoped he would bring that to the ‘Hawks. I think we can safely say he did (190 hits in 55 games), but how about the rest of his performance?

Zadorov is never going to be confused with an Offensive Defenseman. While he did score 7 goals in 2 straight seasons (2017-18 and 2018-19), that’s not where he makes his living. He seems to like to take shots, and get involved at the offensive end, but that takes him out of position for what the Hawks need him to do: Intimidate their opponents.

At 6’6″, 235 lbs, Zadorov is a bruiser, and when he gets a chance to deliver a big hit, he takes it. Opposing players don’t like playing against him, which is what you want in a physical Defenseman. Patrick Kane expressed as much in a tweet (story here) after Zadorov was brought on board.

He has played a lot of games in the NHL (over 400) for only being 26 years old. That’s a lot of experience, and a lot of time on the ice to learn his craft.

Zadorov was paid $3.2M by the team for this season, a 1 year deal signed after the trade in October. A qualifying offer for Zadorov would have to be at least equal to that $3.2M for 1 year.

The Case For Re-Signing Zadorov

Pure and simple, the ‘Hawks don’t have anyone like him on their roster. That physical presence can help when they play bigger teams in their division (which seems like all of them these days). They need to be able to make teams pay for getting in close to the net, or being too aggressive in the Blackhawks zone.

He is an experienced Defenseman, with over 400 games under his belt. That experience can help, especially with the young players sharing the blue line with him. Zadorov should be able to be trusted in any on-ice situation.

It is likely the ‘Hawks will lose a D-man in the Expansion Draft (talked about it here), and that means there will be a hole on the left side of the Defense, and Zadorov can fill that hole.

The Case For Moving On From Zadorov

Despite the physical attributes Zadorov brings to the ice, he doesn’t get to utilize them as much as you would expect. He often gets out of position going for the big hit, exposing the team to more high danger chances against them.

When Big Z has the puck, he seems almost glacial in his decision-making. He does not display the sense of urgency that I would expect from a team as challenged in moving the puck as the ‘Hawks were in 2020-2021. He holds the puck for too long, and telegraphs his passes, which is not good.

Zadorov is probably as good as he is going to get after 400 games in the NHL. This is who he is going to be as a player for the rest of his career.

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The Verdict

There is a place for a player like Big Z on an NHL team. The problem is, that place is usually the 3rd pairing, or perhaps intermittently in the 2nd pairing. The ‘Hawks were forced to use him in 1st and 2nd pairing situations, and rely on him far too much for his abilities.

The ‘Hawks can’t afford to pay a 3rd pairing D-man $3.2M per year, so I think they need to move on from Zadorov. I don’t think they should even tender him a qualifying offer because of the money involved, unless they can find a trade partner, and move him quickly or at the draft.