Calgary Flames defenceman Nikita Zadorov had some explaining to do.
About the turnover, but mostly about the trade request.
Zadorov was guilty of a poor puck play during Saturday’s third period in Ottawa, a costly cough-up that the Senators quickly turned into a two-goal lead. After a 4-1 loss at Canadian Tire Centre, Flames bench boss Ryan Huska admitted “the energy got sucked out of us” after a forechecking Drake Batherson stripped Zadorov along the end-boards, starting a tic-tac-toe sequence that ended with a freebie finish for Rourke Chartier.
Zadorov owned that mistake, but he wasn’t as apologetic about what had happened 24 hours earlier, when his agent Dan Milstein pressed send on a social-media post that immediately had the hockey world buzzing.
Milstein has reportedly, on Zadorov’s behalf, requested a trade. With his not-so-subtle suggestion that ‘Big Z’ would be a nice fit with the Toronto Maple Leafs, he seemed to be trying to force Flames general manager Craig Conroy to make a move sooner than later.
“That’s my agent, I have to support him,” Zadorov told reporters after Saturday’s loss in Ottawa. “That was his decision to make that tweet. He definitely wants to protect me, wants the best opportunity for myself. So I think he’s definitely helping me in that situation.”
It’s certainly not helping the Flames, who have now fallen to 4-8-2.
The season is just a month old, and they’ve had their share of injuries, suspensions and distractions. This would be best be described as a headache.
The 28-year-old Zadorov, currently earning a salary of US$3.75 million, is slated to be an unrestricted free agent this summer. The rugged rearguard has been talking about his desire to stay put in Calgary, but that has apparently changed. Asked Saturday if he could confirm that he has asked for a trade, he replied: “We have been discussing it. I cannot really say a lot of stuff.”
“I mean, you understand there is a lot of business stuff going on,” Zadorov said. “I cannot probably talk about 90% of that. You guys can only see 10% of what’s going on actually behind the curtains.
“But I love my time being a Calgary Flame. I’m enjoying it every day. I love the fans. I love the city. Like I said last summer, I would love to be a Calgary Flame for my whole life. But the business side, sometimes stuff happens, you know? My agent has to protect me at some points, for sure.”
Saturday’s highlights for the Flames included a 34-save performance from netminding call-up Dustin Wolf and an odd-man-rush goal by Blake Coleman, made possible by some crafty stick-work and a splendid saucer pass by his rookie linemate Martin Pospisil.
But for many fans in Calgary, the best news came during Elliotte Friedman’s segment at the second intermission. Friedman’s reporting provided some reassurance that Conroy & Co. won’t be rushed into accepting an underwhelming offer.
“I do think the Flames made it very clear to Zadorov that while they might be willing to move him, they’re going to do it on their own timetable,” Friedman said.
Which means that the disgruntled defender could be on Calgary’s roster for a while, perhaps right up to the trade deadline in March.
Toronto, Vancouver and New Jersey have already been floated as potential destinations. Conroy should receive plenty of calls about Zadorov, who is big and tough and has a smooth stride that allows him to jump into the attack and provide a secondary wave of offence.
Prior to boarding Saturday’s late-night flight to Montreal, the last stop for the Flames on a three-game roadie, Calgary’s current hit leader — he has been credited with 26 collisions so far — acknowledged that his teammates might be ticked about Milstein’s maneuvering. Asked why his agent would go public with this gripe, Zadorov responded: “You’ve gotta ask him. I’m a player, I’m playing hockey. He’s doing my business. I trust him with that. He thought that was a good decision to do, and I have to support him with that.”
So what now?
Zadorov, who skates primarily on Calgary’s bottom pairing, promised to continue to go about his business, even if he believes that he deserves a bigger role.
“I’m not controlling it. I can feel whatever I want, but the coaches are controlling it,” said Zadorov, who is averaging 18:10 per night, when asked about his reported frustration with his icetime. “My job is to go out there and compete. I think that’s what I’m bringing every night. At the end of the day, it’s my 11th year in the league and it’s all about my teammates right now. I feel like that’s not a really proper situation for our team right now, for sure, in this regards. I would be pissed if I would be them, if I see that from my teammate. But I hope they understand one day, for sure.
“I’ve been focusing on being a great teammate my whole life. I think if you ask the guys around the league who’ve played with me, I hope nobody says a bad word about me. I would step in for the guy, I would always help, I would always be there for the guy …
“That’s what I’m going to keep doing every night I get an opportunity to play in this league and be humble.”