Toronto Maple Leafs: Looking at what Cody Ceci’s role could be this season

Cody Ceci #5 of the Ottawa Senators battles against Zach Hyman #11 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena.(Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Cody Ceci #5 of the Ottawa Senators battles against Zach Hyman #11 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena.(Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs were able to shed Nikita Zaitsev’s long-term contract to the Ottawa Senators and in return will give Cody Ceci a chance for a fresh start.

While many expected Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas to be busy heading into free agency, what he has been able to accomplish in the short time shouldn’t be overlooked.

Sure people might not be ecstatic about acquiring Cody Ceci but you can’t ignore the value of getting rid of the long-term commitment to Nikita Zaitsev.

After paying a first-round pick to move out Patrick Marleau‘s contract, Dubas has now shed another $6.6 million which not only frees up room to sign Mitch Marner but allows some flexibility for more moves as well.

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From a fan perspective losing Connor Brown is probably bittersweet for those who liked seeing the local players who wanted to do nothing more than to bring a championship to Toronto. Unfortunately, the Leafs could not afford to have his $2.1 million cap hit play on the fourth line as he did for most of last season.

When you look at the situation involving Zaitsev, the Leafs were not in a situation to just move him without recouping any value, Dubas made that clear. It is tough to move a player that played top-four minutes and a big role on the penalty kill without replacing that.

This is where Ceci comes in. Obviously, the 25-year-old does not provide the offensive upside Zaitsev did in a top-four role but that’s not what the Leafs are going to need from him.

Zaitsev played 231:13 of Toronto’s 350:31 penalty kill minutes last season which was just only a couple of minutes more than Ron Hainsey who played 229:55 and will likely play the same role after agreeing to a one-year deal in the Nation’s capital.

That is a lot of minutes the Leafs were going to have to replace and this is where Ceci comes in. He played 184:38 minutes shorthanded for the Senators which was the most on the team with Dylan DeMelo behind him at 127:57.  Ben Harpur, who was also included in the deal, played the third most minutes at 125:10.

While Harpur is not a lock to make the team, the Leafs also have other options to play the penalty kill including Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, Travis Dermott (when he returns), Martin Marincin (if he somehow makes the team) and other potential options the Leafs add in free agency, trade or internally.

Mike Babcock will probably have to adjust his deployment on special teams as well (this will probably be Dave Hakstol’s job) but losing Hainsey and Zaitsev will bring a new look to the Leafs PK.

When it comes to Ceci, Babcock is going to like having a bigger body and has the comparables hits and blocks that Zaitsev had. They also get a motivated player who will want to build up his value before heading into free agency. While many probably wished his cap hit was lower. It is only one season and with Ceci eligible for arbitration, the Leafs were better off agreeing to that number.

Next. Leafs sign Kapanen and Johnsson to multi-year extensions. dark

Considering his age and the fact he is right-handed, the Leafs could still try to trade him as well. Worst case, he plays and provides something tangible for the Leafs who are in the market for defenceman especially on the right side with both Zaitsev and Hainsey gone.