A little known detail of the Nikita Zaitsev contract, which was announced by the Toronto Maple Leafs earlier this morning, has lead to speculation amongst NHL insiders that the Leafs are planning for another NHL work stoppage in 2020-21.
The detail? Zaitsev’s seven year contract extension contains a $3 million dollar signing bonus for six of the seven seasons. The only season exempt from the bonus? That would be the 2020-21 season, which just so happens to coincide with the expiration of the NHL and NHLPA’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA). What this means is that, should there be a lockout that season, the Leafs are totally off the hook for any salary obligations towards Zaitsev until a new CBA can be negotiated.
An pessimist would say that the Leafs aren’t negotiating with Zaitsev in good faith. An optimist would say that the Leafs are being prudent and simply taking into account all the potential scenarios. A conspiracy theorist would say that the Leafs know something that the rest of us don’t. In reality, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. The Leafs are hedging their bets in case of a lockout and, as has been the way under the regime of Brendan Shanahan and Lou Lamoriello, they’re merely practicing pro-active asset management.