The Nikita Zaitsev trade is now all but official, with Zaitsev confirmed to have waived his no-trade clause for Ottawa. Another piece of the deal has also been revealed: Connor Brown is headed to the Senators as part of a larger multi-player trade.

Update: Final details of the trade below. The Leafs get some LHD depth back in the 6’7 Ben Harpur, while they’ve grabbed a mid-round pick out of the deal as well.

Ahead of the opening of unrestricted free agency, the Leafs have now offloaded the three pieces they were expected or at least hoping to move for cap savings in Nikita Zaitsev, Connor Brown, and Patrick Marleau. We’ll see what the full return is from Ottawa, but they’ll end up giving up a first-round pick in the process and taking Cody Ceci back as the price of creating cap space — which adds up to about $8.5 million in savings depending on what they do with Ceci (it could be as much as $12.85 million if they subsequently offload his contract, which we’ll pencil in at his qualifying amount of $4.3 million).

The negative values of Zaitsev and Marleau’s contracts were about as bad as feared and the Leafs paid a handsome price to offload those cap numbers. Unlike the other two, Brown was more an unaffordable luxury ($2.1 million) than he was a bad contract given the Leafs’ right-wing depth that made him a fourth-line player here, and he could’ve feasibly been moved for a second-round pick or as a part of package in a larger deal to bring back an asset the Leafs actually wanted to acquire. Instead, he looks to have been included as a sweetener to move out Zaitsev’s remaining five years at $4.5 million AAV (granted, the final pieces of the deal are TBD).

It’s also a tough move knowing Brown was a feel-good, homegrown draft-and-development story as a Toronto kid and former sixth-round pick of the Leafs who worked his ass off to get to the point where he could sign a multi-million, multi-year contract with his favourite NHL team. Coming off of a 20-goal season as a rookie, he also reportedly took a bit of a discount on his three-year contract because he wanted to be a part of the future and grow with the young core here in Toronto.

Moving both Brown and the first-round pick was certainly preferable to forking over one of Johnsson or Kapanen, who teams were initially asking for in these kinds of deals, but this has been a pricey bit of business — such is life when you combine a dearth of cap space with the urgency of a major RFA holdout and the need to conduct business in the free agency period in order to fill some roster holes.

Now it’s a question of what the Leafs do with Ceci. They may be able to play their cards right here and recoup some of the lost asset value in the Marleau and Zaitsev deals. There have been mixed reports on Ceci’s value over the years, but that he was moved for Zaitsev is probably an indication there isn’t a strong market for his services at $4.3+ million. However, as we talked about on Saturday, signing him to an offer similar to his qualifying offer with a lot of his money paid upfront via signing bonus would make him a marketable RD asset to non-cap teams.

A lot could also depend on whether Ceci opts for arbitration by July 5. Such a move would likely result in a walk-away situation after the hearing with Ceci then testing UFA, so his camp will need to weigh up the qualifying offer — and potentially the Leafs’ offer — against what they anticipate they could fetch via arbitration and ultimately on the open market as a late-summer UFA. They could bet on a team(s) striking out on RHD help in early July and circling back for him, giving him the opportunity to cash in more on a multi-year deal, or they could take the bird in hand and sign their one-year $4.3 million QO.

The latter scenario would mean the Leafs might end up in a position where they use Ceci at least to start the season. They aren’t exactly flush with right-handed options at the moment, although they’ll definitely look to be active on that front today, including an earnest attempt to bring back Ron Hainsey. But it seems like the Leafs should be able to get a contract done at a number that makes sense for both sides while structuring the contract in a way that makes Ceci a marketable asset for them; up-front bonus money is a mutually-beneficial arrangement.

Toronto Maple Leafs set to sign Kenny Agostino, Nick Shore

Kenny Agostino, Toronto Maple Leafs
Photo: NHLI via Getty Images

The Leafs are also expected to get their bargain-bin shopping underway when Noon EST hits with the addition of some cheap and much-needed C and LW depth in Nick Shore and Kenny Agostino.

Shore, a 27-year-old right-handed center, spent 2018-19 in the KHL after he bounced around the NHL in 2017-18, putting up 19 points in 61 games shared between the Kings, Flames, and Senators. His production hasn’t been half bad for a player who has averaged just 12 minutes and change in ice time since he broke the league — his 1.18 points/60 since 2016-17 is decent 4C production. He wasn’t great on the faceoff dot in his most recent NHL season (47.7%), but he’s a 50.3% in that department over his NHL career and has played a secondary PK role for a couple of different teams.

Shore gives the Leafs a cheap right-handed option at center who will come in and compete with Frederik Gauthier for the 4C role. That he can take right faceoffs on his strong side and that he’s taken shifts on the PK in the NHL should give him a leg up as the coaching staff has not trusted Gauthier in shorthanded situations as of yet. Shore’s defensive results were naturally impressive while playing for those 2014-17 Kings teams, but they have stood up as just fine in his other stops in the league as well; players reared in the Kings development system usually know how to play without the puck. He might be able to give the Leafs some safe defensive and PK minutes without being a total black hole offensively.

Agostino is a player who Kyle Dubas is quite familiar with from watching him tear it up offensively in the AHL, including an 83-point season (65 games) for the Chicago Wolves in 2016-17. A player who has spent a long time in the tweener zone as a scorer who couldn’t stick on a scoring line in the NHL and wasn’t necessarily viewed as an ideal checker, he got his first extended look in the NHL last season at age 26, splitting his season between the Canadiens and Devils. 24 points in 73 games is reasonable production for a player that averaged just 12:55 in ice time, although he did see some PP time (1:13/game), where he chipped in five assists.

The second year the Leafs are giving Agostino on his one-way contract is something he might not have gotten elsewhere, but he’ll come in under the threshold that allows them to bury it in full in the AHL if he doesn’t make the big club; that makes sense for the Leafs and he will, at a minimum, really benefit the Marlies. Agostino has some speed and skill and will mix it up a little physically, but we’ll see if he can stick through camp. On a team with the Leafs’ center and right-wing talent, he could have a nice opportunity sitting in front of him on the left wing — especially given Patrick Marleau and (likely) Tyler Ennis are now gone and Zach Hyman’s status is up in the air for the start of the season due to injury.