The Toronto Maple Leafs and defenseman Nikita Zaitsev are working together to find the 27-year-old a fresh start "for his own personal and private reasons," general manager Kyle Dubas said Thursday, according to The Athletic's Jonas Siegel.
There have already been multiple inquires regarding Zaitsev since the rest of the league was made aware of his availability Thursday morning, according to TSN's Bob McKenzie.
Zaitsev was originally signed by the Maple Leafs on a one-year deal as an undrafted free agent out of Russia on May 2, 2016. He proved to be quite a find in his rookie campaign, tallying 36 points in 82 games while logging over 22 minutes per night. He managed a respectable 49.4 Corsi For percentage despite being deployed primarily in a defensive role.
After his rookie season, the Maple Leafs - with Lou Lamoriello still serving as the general manager - inked Zaitsev to a seven-year contract with a cap hit of $4.5 million. He's failed to meet expectations since the deal, registering just 27 points in the last two seasons while also proving to be a puck-possession liability.
He did, however, help form an admirable shutdown pairing alongside Jake Muzzin in the postseason, despite the club's early exit.
With key restricted free agents Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen, and Andreas Johnsson in line for significant raises, the Maple Leafs are facing a significant cap crunch, which could ultimately spell the end of Zaitsev's tenure in Toronto.
Zaitsev has a 10-team no-trade list that kicks in July 1.