Maple Leafs Trade Nikita Zaitsev, Connor Brown to Ottawa for Cody Ceci

The Toronto Maple Leafs announced on Monday that they were sending defensemen Nikita Zaitsev, forward Connor Brown and prospect Michael Carcone to the Nation’s Capital (Canada’s Capital, that is) in exchange for defensemen Cody Ceci, Ben Harper, prospect Aaron Luchuk and Columbus’ third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft in Montreal.

Nikita Zaitsev is a solid defenseman. He was a top player signed from the KHL and is pretty solid defensively. He’s a good guy and had a great playoffs this season.

None of that is the issue here. The issue is the fact that Lou Lamoriello saw this solid bottom pairing guy and thought, wouldn’t it be a fantastic idea to give this guy $4.5 million dollars until he’s 32. Zaitsev’s contract, along with his consistent gaffes, made him a guy the Leafs needed gone.

With five years left with a $4.5 million cap hit, there’s no way the Leafs could keep him under the cap. Ottawa gets a solid defenseman, but they’re paying a lot for him.

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Connor Brown is a solid youngish winger at 25. After two seasons in the AHL, he did solid for 20 goals in his first season in the NHL. He’s a good, hardworking two-way guy, but his offensive skills, or lack thereof, can be frustrating.

His monster final season in the OHL shows promise, but unfortunately for Connor, he’ll be playing with the likes of Chris Tierney and Bobby Ryan as opposed to Connor McDavid and Andre Burakovsky. Seriously though, Connor Brown is a solid defenseman who would totally be a core Leaf if it weren’t for the fact that his contract is… market value. He enters the final year of a contract with a cap hit of $2.3 million, after which he’s an RFA.

He’s a cap casualty, but the Leafs won’t mind losing him. Ottawa and especially head coach D.J. Smith will get another tool from his penalty kill in Toronto.

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Michael Carcone is the sweetener in this deal. The 23-year-old was acquired for Josh Leivo earlier in the year and it was pretty clear the Leafs’ organization liked him. The undrafted forward had a great season in Toronto with 27 points in 43 games with the Marlies, a slowdown from his pace earlier in the year in Utica with 17 points in 20 games, but still pretty good. Carcone was one of the four players the Maple Leafs gave qualifying offers to and it seemed his role with the Marlies was to get bigger.

Carcone has NHL potential, and he’ll likely be a solid bottom six player in the years to come. The winger will get a better opportunity in Ottawa, where he’ll make an NHL appearance as soon as this season. I’d call Carcone’s situation similar to former Marlie Carl Grundstrom. He’s close to NHL ready, but the Leafs’ stacked roster makes for a difficult time to get a shot. Carcone will make an impact in Ottawa as soon as this season. Carcone is currently an RFA.

The best way I could describe Cody Ceci is, he’s just bad. Ceci was notorious for being the worst defensemen on a horrible Ottawa Senators team which takes a lot. The 25-year-old is considered one of the worst in the NHL which means he’ll do great on Toronto’s blue line.

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Ceci has two things going for him. 1. He’s a right handed defensemen and the Leafs desperately need those. 2. His offensive game isn’t horrible like his defensive game. Ceci’s strength throughout his career has been his offensive game and surrounded by like-minded players, he has the potential to do pretty okay.

Ceci was acquired as a restricted free agent. Ceci’s contract last year was $4.3 million against the cap, but will get more this season. Ceci is going to get $4.5 million for one year on a contract that’s all salary and no signing bonus.

Ben Harpur is an interesting get in this deal two, but… it looks like he’s bad too. The 24-year-old was frequently scratched and found himself injured multiple times on the Senators. In his first full season as an Ottawa Senator, Harpur appeared in 51 games, putting up a total of five points.

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According to, he had a WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of -0.94. He’s 6’6 if you’re part of that crowd. Unfortunately, it’s probably not far-fetched to say Harpur appears as a seventh-eighth defensemen until Travis Dermott returns from injury.

What makes Harpur more appealing is his contract. With a $ 725k cap hit for this season, he’s a cheap option, even if he kind of stinks. He becomes an RFA after it expires.

Aaron Luchuk is player you’ll only be interested if you’re like me and follow the Marlies and Growlers. The 22-year-old centre had a good Junior career and last season, he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Senators. Luchuk wasn’t able to carry his offensive output to the AHL and was only able to put up nine points in 27 games.

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In Brampton (ECHL), Luchuk had a pretty good season with 22 points in 32 games. Growlers fans probably know the name considering the Beast played the Growlers frequently last season and because he put up four points in a losing effort against them in the playoffs. Luchuk has the potential to be a good AHL player, but to me, it is unlikely that he becomes an NHL’er.

He’s young at 22 and depending on how his season goes, he can prove me wrong. He’ll almost certainly start the season in St. Johns. Luchuk’s on the last year of his entry-level contract and because he’s going to be in the minors, his cap hit doesn’t go against the Leafs. They’ll pay him $70k, but he also has the opportunity to earn $135k more in performance bonuses. He’ll be a restricted free agent next season.

The 2020 third rounder the Leafs get in this trade is Columbus’, acquired in their high-profile trade with Ottawa. The one where they got Ian Cole because we all remembered that happening.

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The winner of this trade depends on a lot of things.

On Toronto’s end, you just shipped out two guys who you needed to trade for cap space, sooner or later. You’ve traded a prospect, but he wasn’t going to make an impact for a while on your stacked roster if at all. You got an AHL player/seventh defensemen in Ben Harpur.

You even got a third rounder back somehow. That’s almost $6 million in cap space, more if Harpur is sent down. The problem starts with Cody Ceci. Darren Dreger reported that the veteran defensemen could be offered as much as $5 million.

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Ceci ended up getting $4.5 million, but just for this season. That sucks, because it becomes a lot harder to squeeze in other pieces. By the time I’ve been writing this, the Maple Leafs already traded for Tyson Barrie and Alex Kerfoot (late spoiler alert), so it becomes harder to fit both in there. If Ceci does well this season, or gets traded when Travis Dermott returns, this becomes a big win for Toronto.

On Ottawa’s end… I don’t know what they’re doing. They’ve picked an awful time to stop tanking, because they should’ve done that last year, when they didn’t have their first rounder. Signing and trading for D.J. Smith’s favourite players makes them seem slightly more like an NHL team.

Connor Brown is a great fit for this team, cost effective player, works hard and D.J. Smith is familiar with him. Nikita Zaitsev showed a lot of potential in the playoffs, and even though he’s overpaid, it gives them some stability at the back-end. Better than Ceci? That depends on this season.

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Michael Carcone suddenly gets a great opportunity to make the NHL this year and at 23, the time is now. This trade makes some sense for them. They got players familiar with the head coach and got rid of their two worst defensemen. The third rounder is a bit questionable, seeing as Columbus probably ends up sucking this season. On paper, the Senators win, but I’m not sure why they’re going for players 25+ here.

The jury is up, this is a good trade for both teams, but I think the Maple Leafs benefit more.

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