Is Nikita Zadorov a trade fit for the Canucks? Breaking down price, lineup fit and more

Nikita Zadorov’s days with the Calgary Flames are numbered. His agent Dan Milstein wrote a viral post on X (formerly Twitter) over the weekend criticizing his client’s lack of minutes. Shortly after, reports surfaced that Zadorov, a pending unrestricted free agent, has requested a trade out of Calgary.

CHEK TV and The Athletic contributor Rick Dhaliwal reported that the Vancouver Canucks “will be a big player after Zadorov.” TSN’s Darren Dreger also identified Vancouver as a team with “strong interest” in the hulking 6-foot-6 Russian defender.

Is Zadorov a sensible target for the Canucks? What could the acquisition cost be? What would need to happen cap-wise to make a Zadorov move feasible? Let’s dive in.

What does Zadorov bring to the table?

Zadorov is a physical, mobile, defence-first left-shot blueliner who is best suited to a third-pairing role but can be used in a top-four spot if necessary. In Calgary, he has recently spent time alongside a No. 6 defenceman whether it be Dennis Gilbert or Nick DeSimone. But he began the season alongside MacKenzie Weegar and has also suited up with Chris Tanev, two responsible defencemen who are capable of erasing mistakes.

The 28-year-old isn’t potent enough offensively that you could reliably use him on your power play — the Flames have at least three defencemen in Weegar, Rasmus Andersson and Noah Hanifin who are better to use in man-advantage situations. But he has found a way to contribute scoring in a tertiary role. In fact, his last two seasons have been among the best offensive years of his career. Whether or not Zadorov will produce a 14-goal season — or score a hat trick — ever again remains to be seen, but he’s a threat to score or create plays thanks to his skating ability and shot.

A third-pairing defenceman who can provide around 20 points at his best isn’t anything to sneeze at.

Perhaps it’s because of his size, but his skating always seems to catch people by surprise. Because of that ability, he is unafraid of skating deep into the offensive zone to create plays and generate chances on goal.

During one shift against the Nashville Predators, he leveraged his skating to maintain an offensive possession, stopped a breakaway chance coming the other way and then solo carried the puck back to the offensive zone.


If left to his devices at the blue line, he can wire it as he did against the Toronto Maple Leafs last week.


Defensively, Zadorov can suppress oncoming chances at both even strength and on the penalty kill. But he is prone to mental lapses from time to time. Positioning plays a role in that, whether it’s bad coverage or turning the puck over in a dangerous spot as he did just prior to one of the Ottawa Senators’ goals over the weekend.

His physicality has also resulted in penalty trouble at times, and at least in one instance against the Boston Bruins last season, a broken play that led to a goal against.


Zadorov’s game isn’t perfect. As shown in the clips above, it can be a roller-coaster experience. But when Zadorov is at his best, he stands out with an aggressive style that can help at both ends of the ice. It just might be best to pair him with someone who can clean up errors as they happen.

Is he a sensible fit for Vancouver?

Zadorov would be an upgrade for the Canucks blue line, but the fit seems less than ideal.

Vancouver already has Quinn Hughes, Ian Cole and Carson Soucy on the left side. Does it really need to spend assets on an expiring left-shot defender?

Zadorov can play the right side, as can Cole and Soucy, but Vancouver’s coaching staff has been reluctant to play left-shot defenders on the right. It speaks volumes that the Canucks experimented with fringe right-shot defencemen like Noah Juulsen and Cole McWard as possible partners for Hughes deep into training camp and preseason before eventually slotting Filip Hronek on the top pair and acquiring another right-shot in Mark Friedman, just to maintain lefty-righty pairs.

Rick Tocchet and Adam Foote would have to be comfortable shifting a left-handed defender to the right side for a Zadorov move to make sense. Soucy’s injury on Sunday against the Canadiens is a wild card to keep an eye on. Tocchet’s only update on Soucy’s status was to say that he’ll be evaluated in Vancouver.

If Soucy’s expected to miss significant time, Zadorov would become a more appealing fit. But the Flames would also have more leverage in trade negotiations if Vancouver all of a sudden has a greater need for blue-line help, which could jack the price up. GM Craig Conroy should only pull the trigger on a Zadorov trade this far in advance of the trade deadline if the acquisition cost is a clear win for Calgary. Meanwhile, Vancouver probably shouldn’t give up a premium draft pick or prospect for a rental until we have a clearer idea of just how good the team is.

Cole’s on an expiring contract, so Zadorov could be a logical fit as a second pair option beyond this season, some would argue. There’s definitely some merit to that idea. But this is where the price of Zadorov’s next contract would require very careful consideration.

Zadorov carries a $3.75 million cap hit and yet he hasn’t proven himself as a full-time top-four defenceman on a good team. That’s not to say he isn’t capable of being one, but he’s played sheltered minutes the last two years in Calgary. He ranked fifth among Flames defenders in terms of how often he played against top forwards last year and No. 6 among the club’s defenders in 2021-22, according to Puck IQ.

Zadorov played tougher, top-four minutes with Chicago in 2020-21. The results were a mixed bag (outshot and outchanced by wide margins but a breakeven on-ice goal differential) and the Blackhawks elected to trade him at the end of that season to Calgary. He also played in a high-leverage, top-four role with the Colorado Avalanche for two seasons between 2016 and 2018, during some of Colorado’s leanest rebuild years (before settling into a lesser role), and again, the results were OK but not good enough to provide strong proof that he can be a legitimate top-four driver.

The Canucks already have Soucy, who’s in a similar boat as a No. 4/5 defender, locked up on a fair contract that pays him $3.25 million annually. Would it be wise for Vancouver to hand out significant dollars and term to Zadorov, another left-shot No. 4/5 type blueliner, especially with Hronek requiring a big raise this summer? If Vancouver hands out a lucrative contract to any defenceman ahead of next season, it should be for a right-handed top-four piece. If it must be a lefty, it should arguably be for a player with a higher top-four ceiling than Zadorov.

Zadorov’s trouble with penalties should also be noted. Since 2020-21, Zadorov’s penalty differential (how many penalties he’s taken compared to how many he’s drawn) ranks sixth worst among NHL defencemen who’ve played at least 1,500 five-on-five minutes. That’s noteworthy because Cole, Tyler Myers and Soucy also rank within the bottom 10, meaning the Canucks blue line would have a lot of penalty-prone defencemen if Zadorov is added.

Which NHL D put their team short-handed most often? (since 2020)



Penalty Differential


Penalties Drawn


Penalties Taken
































What would the Flames want for Zadorov?

The Flames are hanging delicately on a retooling precipice and trading away Zadorov could mark the beginning of their reset. A good trade for Zadorov would see the team land a young player or a mid-level draft pick (think third-rounder like Luke Schenn last year) they can add to their pool. The prospect would likely be a reclamation project or a lesser-grade youngster that has some offensive upside or pace.

We’re still in the days of limited cap space, which means some teams might not be able to take on Zadorov’s salary without some retention. But depending on supply and demand closer to the trade deadline, that cost could go up to a second-round pick based on previous trades for defencemen at the deadline (e.g. Jeremy Lauzon fetching a second-round pick at the 2022 trade deadline).

The Canucks are squeezed against the cap which means the Flames would have to take back a contract similar to Zadorov’s $3.75 million cap hit. Vancouver may want to part ways with offensive parts like Conor Garland or Anthony Beauvillier who carry higher salaries than Zadorov. However, the Flames could easily try to spin it as a way to solve another problem: putting capable scorers and players alongside Jonathan Huberdeau.

Beauvillier is off to a slow start of his own with two goals and six points in 15 games, but his $4.15 million AAV contract comes off the books at season’s end. The Flames could always take it on in addition to a draft pick or a prospect. If Beauvillier works out with Huberdeau, you consider his place on the team with the rising salary cap and, presumably, additional space with other assets gone. If it doesn’t work, you cut your losses with Beauvillier and add to your cap space in the offseason and you still have that prospect or draft pick.

Of course, if you’re the Flames, you probably would rather have a younger, cheaper asset or draft picks that can assist a retool or rebuild.


Zadorov is a good player with an intriguing skill set. He’d be a nice addition to any team seeking blue-line help. The Canucks could meet the projected acquisition cost, too (likely in the third- or second-round pick range based on past trade comparables for similar defencemen), provided Calgary would be willing to take back a contract to make the cap math work.

So yes, we can understand why Vancouver would be linked to Zadorov.

The fit and timing don’t seem optimal for the Canucks, however. Zadorov grades similarly to Cole and Soucy in terms of overall ability. Vancouver’s already set at left-shot defence (provided that Soucy isn’t out for too long), so unless the coaching staff changes its mind and embraces shifting a lefty to the right side, Zadorov seems redundant relative to the potential acquisition cost. Tanev would be the better fit because of his handedness but that potential acquisition debate can be saved for another day.

Canucks management may view this differently, but trading a future asset for a rental lefty — when the Canucks are already without their second-round pick this year and third-round pick next year — doesn’t seem like the best course of action.

(Photo of Nikita Zadorov and Dakota Joshua: Bob Frid / USA Today)

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