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Trading Filip Zadina: A closer look

It might be time to move on from the former first-rounder.

Detroit Red Wings v Dallas Stars Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Knowing when to hold on and when to move on is key in the world of hockey.

A player can have all the tools and chemistry needed to succeed at the NHL level, but without a system that benefits him, he’ll keep treading water. This is a common theme in today’s league. Devon Toews was once a supporting cast member of the New York Islanders. His trade to the Colorado Avalanche — and the breath of fresh air that resulted — transformed him into an elite play-driving defender. Sometimes, a change of scenery is all a player needs to take off. It’s bittersweet, but sometimes, these things can wind up for the best in the long run.

This prelude brings us to our current enigma: Filip Zadina. The 2018 sixth overall pick seems to develop more questions with every answer he brings. With just 10 points in 34 games — and a healthy scratch last Tuesday against the San Jose Sharks — it’s hard to make heads or tails of what’s going on with the forward. He’s shooting at a ridiculously low 5.6% and all of his shots either end up wide of the net or in low-danger areas. Sam Gagner, who has played the entirety of the season on the fourth line, has three more points than Zadina.

Zadina’s strong possession metrics and ability to drive play show that he’s more than capable of playing at the NHL level. He has the tools needed to make it in the big leagues — but his finishing is damaging his ability to impact any roster. The biggest enigma as of right now is his viability with the Detroit Red Wings. The team’s rebuild is chugging along at a good pace. As old veterans make their way out, talented, cost-controlled players are filing in. At 22 years of age, Zadina has a chance to be one of the latter. But, if recent games are indication, it might be time to move on.

Last night’s effort against the Anaheim Ducks was an exercise in frustration. Head coach Jeff Blashill tried just about everything to get his game going, giving him different linemates, situations on the ice, and even some time on the power play. During a key faceoff, Zadina went on autopilot, handing the Ducks the game-tying goal on a silver platter.

Zadina’s lack of production and the rise of the rookies is making it harder and harder to find a spot for him on the roster. A change of scenery might be just what he needs to reignite his game. With that said, where could Filip Zadina fit in — and what kind of return could the Red Wings garner in a trade?

Why trade Zadina?

Zadina appears to be a complete NHL player in nearly every sense of the word. He’s been able to consistently drive the puck and maintain control of the offensive zone while not missing his assignments on defense. As far as playing at the NHL level goes, he appears to be doing just about everything right. Why trade him now?

Trading a young, cost-controlled player is just as much a gamble as it is an exercise in frustration. On one hand, Zadina is only 22 and could easily turn things around. On the other, the clock appears to be ticking for the forward, who has just 19 goals in 120 career games. Zadina, who was drafted as a shoot-first forward, should not be scoring less than one goal every 10 games.

System of a downside

Head coach Jeff Blashill’s system appears to prioritize defense and high-scoring chances over shots on the net. While this is great for stifling the opposition and improving two-way play, it’s been a detriment to many offense-minded players. Andreas Athanasiou, for all his faults, succeeded best when he was put in a position to succeed. When Blashill made him focus on defense over scoring in 2019-20, his offense suffered, pulling the team’s goal differential further down than it had been in years.

The thing is, neither party was completely in the wrong; Blashill was right about Athanasiou’s shortcomings, and Athanasiou was correct in his observation about his own play style. The same can be said of Zadina, who has recently looked like a ghost of his former defense-minded self. This two-way rebranding appears to have taken effect on Zadina, who looks less confident with the puck than he’s ever been before. Despite its criticisms, Blashill’s insistence appears to carry with it some merit. Take a look at Zadina’s advanced stats, courtesy of Evolving Hockey:

Filip Zadina’s advanced statistics
Table & Data courtesy of Evolving Hockey

Zadina is generating offense at a high rate at even-strength, but his defensive woes are causing the team to suffer. He’s a double-edged sword on the ice, generating offense but remaining detrimentally defensive. While this double-edged sword style could work with a player like, say, Patrick Kane, Zadina’s 10 points in 34 games is simply not enough to justify his defensive play.

The case of chemistry

Pius Suter has been Zadina’s center for nearly the entirety of the 2021-22 season. Unfortunately, the two haven’t clicked; in fact, both produce better offense when they’re apart than they do together. The thing is, the team’s third line is generating a great amount of chemistry on its own. The combination of Vladislav Namestnikov, Michael Rasmussen and Adam Erne seems to bring some sneaky creativity at just about every avenue. While Zadina could certainly make an impact at this role, it doesn’t seem prudent to break up a good thing — especially when it’s helping Rasmussen get back to normal.

Last season’s affair with Jakub Vrana and Dylan Larkin was one worth watching on a near-nightly basis. The trio wreaked havoc up and down the ice, and reuniting the Czech-mates might be just what the forward needs to put a spark in his game. But Zadina shouldn’t have to rely on his linemates to be a good player. Having better linemates could certainly help, but a true indicator of a successful NHLer lies in his ability to generate offense where there is none.

Even that, however, appears to be a problem for Zadina. Take a look at this Moritz Seider sequence — and Zadina’s involvement within it:

If any other player on the roster received the pass Zadina sent to Seider, it would’ve gone off the skate and into the hands of the Kings, who would, in turn, transform it into an empty net goal. These incredibly risky plays are just a microcosm of how frustrating Zadina’s decision-making can get at times. Chemistry or no, something has to change in order for Zadina to stick around.

What kind of return could Zadina get?

This is where things start to get a little sobering. Every organization and its fans alike overvalue their players and prospects. Remember the time Toronto Maple Leafs fans suggested that a Tyler Bertuzzi for Travis Dermott trade was justified? Bias clouds our judgment — but a cost-controlled 22-year-old may still net some worthwhile results. Here are three candidates that may take a swing at the former first-rounder:

Candidate 1: Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers have a player that is not only similar to Zadina, but appears to be in dire straits with his organization: Travis Konecny. Konecny, at 24 years of age, has plenty of hockey left in him. He’s a talented scorer who is just two seasons removed from 61 points in 66 games. At $5.5M/year through 2024-25, he’s locked in to an affordable contract through his prime. Why, then, has he locked himself so firmly in the Flyers’ doghouse — and what’s stopped him from scoring in nearly two months?

Like Vrana, consistency is a big issue with Konecny. He often goes through scoreless droughts, and with a team as wildly unpredictable as the Flyers have been, a case could be made that his environment is spurning these results. Trading Zadina for Konecny might require a sweetener, however; with the Flyers eyeing a rebuild, they’ll look to stock up on draft picks and prospects however they can.

If the Red Wings can coax Konecny from the Flyers, they’ll need to pony up with one or the other. The Philly Voice believes that Konecny wouldn’t net a first or a second round pick; but Zadina, a third, and a prospect like, say, Jared McIsaac might just do the trick. Then again, this is the same team that just spent a first round pick to acquire Rasmus Ristolainen, one of the worst defensemen in the NHL. Anything’s possible, right?

Candidate 2: Ottawa Senators

Okay, here me out: a player that isn’t given situations to succeed needs a change of scenery. Sound familiar? The Ottawa Senators have one, too, and his name is Erik Brannstrom. Brannstrom, who was one of the key pieces in the Mark Stone trade, desperately needs a fresh start. When it seemed like Brannstrom finally had a chance to succeed, the Senators signed Michael Del Zotto, who immediately took his spot in the lineup. Now, at 22 years of age, Brannstrom has played just 66 NHL games with 17 points to boot.

It’s not that Brannstrom is a bad player by any means — in fact, his advanced stats and play at the AHL level suggest otherwise. He’s spent the last few weeks injured, but his limited ice time and deployment lead many to believe that the Senators just don’t see a place for him in the organization. With that said, could he find an opportunity with the Red Wings? Given both teams’ positions in their rebuilds and their need at both respective positions, a case could be made for a one-for-one trade.

In Zadina, the Senators get a capable two-way player with top-six potential. In Brannstrom, the Red Wings secure a middle-pairing defenseman who can pick up the load on both even-strength and the power play. This is one of those rare trades that could positively impact both teams, and it’s something the Red Wings should absolutely consider if they want to ship off Zadina.

Candidate 3: Edmonton Oilers

I would pay good money to be in the head of Ken Holland when Steve Yzerman calls him. It’s safe to say the Oilers need change, and they need it fast. Despite outstanding performances from Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the team is in dire straits. The depth scoring is drying up, the goaltending is underwhelming, and they’re relying on Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci for defense. Things are not looking ideal for Edmonton, and they desperately need a change.

Enter the Red Wings, and, more specifically, Filip Zadina. Holland was actually the one to draft Zadina. He’s likely very familiar with the forward’s play style and might have a better idea of what he needs to succeed. Playing him on Connor McDavid’s wing might help to break him out of his slump. Holland initially wanted Evan Bouchard with the pick, but said he couldn’t pass up a high-potential player like Zadina. Now, he gets to have his cake and eat it, too.

Edmonton’s assets allow the Red Wings a bit of flexibility with their trade. On one hand, they could easily go back to the drawing board and ask for a slew of picks. On the other, there is one prospect who could make an impact as early as next season. That player’s name is Dylan Holloway. Holloway had a fantastic season last year with the University of Wisconsin, putting up 35 points in 23 games. He’s spent this season recovering from an injury, and has had several long-term injuries in the past.

While he’s almost certainly going to be a great NHL player in his career, will the Oilers be willing to risk the forward’s health for a chance at success? It’s hard to say. One thing is for sure, though: Holloway won’t come cheap. If Detroit wants to pony up for Holloway, they need to either bring more to the table or focus on other prospects. Thankfully, there are quite a few in Edmonton’s system, but none as eye-catching as Holloway.

Conclusions

When a player consistently struggles, one of two things can change: the player, or the system. As of right now, it doesn’t look like the latter is changing. Unless Zadina completely turns things around, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Yzerman attempt to tender a few offers for the maligned forward. This, of course, isn’t to say that Zadina is a bad player — as mentioned earlier, he has the tools needed to make an impact at the NHL level. The best situation for both parties might be to go their separate ways and seek a trade.

Barring an overpayment, however, it doesn’t seem likely that Zadina would be flipped so stringently. Until Vrana is back — and Yzerman has a clearer idea of what kind of player Zadina will be — no move will be made. Time is on the organization’s side to find a trade partner, if a trade is to be tendered. There’s no pressure to do so, and, barring an overpayment, Zadina will likely stay put through the duration of this season.