When Nikita Zaitsev signed his seven-year extension with the Toronto Maple Leafs about fourteen months ago, reaction, to put it lightly, was mixed. While many were pleased with the Russian defenceman’s debut season in the NHL, it was still… a seven-year extension after one season in the NHL. Not to mention, it was one that ended in a concerning way; Zaitsev had suffered a concussion in the first round of the playoffs that, in hindsight, he appears to have rushed back early from.
Publicly knowing what we weren’t sure of then, that last bit alone should have been a red flag. The Leafs organization was only a few years removed from a very similar situation with John-Michael Liles: he suffered a concussion in December 2011, and just four weeks later, the Leafs signed him to a four-year extension. Liles struggled mightily upon returning to the lineup, and about two years later, was traded in a salary dump move for Tim Gleason, who was promptly bought out (and just came off the cap three weeks ago). To his credit, Liles eventually caught his footing for another two or so years in Carolina, before sunsetting his career in Boston.---
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