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Can Filip Zadina be saved?


What does the future hold for Detroit Red Wings forward Filip Zadina?

For starters, he may not be playing in Hockeytown much longer – the sixth-overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft has sorely disappointed the Red Wings front office over 190 regular-season games, so much so that the team is seriously considering a buyout of the remainder of his contract.

**Editor's note: Zadina was placed on unconditional waivers for the purposes of contract termination Thursday afternoon.

Whether it’s by way of a buyout or the organization convincing the player he needs more time in the American Hockey League (which at present time, appears unlikely), Zadina’s days in Detroit are numbered. That means it’s open season for every other NHL team. But can the player be salvaged? Can the right organization illuminate what made Zadina such a success with the Halifax Mooseheads, or is that merely a pipedream at this point?

It’s something teams are chewing on as I write this. It made me wonder about the likelihood of being able to salvage a player with Zadina’s background and profile – while organizations can be notoriously patient with blue-chip prospects (as opposed to your typical third-round skater, anyway), successful reclamation projects seem few and far between. That’s exactly what a team needs to be prepared to do if they dip their toe in Lake Zadina.

I do want to emphasize one piece: This is certifiably a reclamation project. Zadina has not only been a below-replacement level player over the course of his career, but his production also just painstakingly pales to his peers.

Consider the totality of production from the top 10 picks of the 2018 NHL Draft – we’ll use Goals Above Replacement as our unit of measure, but even simple counting stats like rate scoring make a similar argument against Zadina:

Excluding Zadina for a moment, the average skater in this group has contributed close to 19 goals above expectations, which is singularly worth somewhere between three and four wins in the standings.

That number can get quite high for a superstar like Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes, who has already added close to seven wins off his own production to Vancouver’s win column. But the most important part is every one of these skaters is a meaningful contributor to his organization. Zadina has been a net negative; Vitali Kravtsov (ninth overall) is the only other skater similarly situated, and Kravtsov has only played 64 games.

There will always be a debate about how much failure the organization holds for an inability to develop versus a player. It’s clear Zadina isn’t nearly the skater the draft wonks thought he was five years ago, but development isn’t linear and is a crucial part of transitioning a player through the highest levels of competition. To that end, there are two questions that an organization needs to answer as it relates to Zadina:

1. What part, if any, of Zadina’s game is salvageable?
2. At what price point, if any, does bringing in a failed blue-chip prospect make sense?

I do think leaning back on history is valuable here, and what I wanted to do was look at every top 10 pick (2007-2017) we would’ve considered a similar failure – a replacement level-calibre player or worse up to his age-23 season as the starting criteria, and a review of how each skater’s career progressed beyond their age-23 season.

Here is that list:

About one in six players selected from the top 10 would have been considered replacement level-calibre through their age seasons, so we are starting with a pretty small list of possible comparables. I can reasonably only find three forwards in this sub-group that you would point to as late-blooming success stories, and notably all three had a change of scenery.

Kyle Turris, who struggled mightily with the Arizona Coyotes, was moulded into a reliable top-six forward by the Ottawa Senators. Brett Connolly, after some early struggles with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins, became a 20-goal-per-82 game attacker with the Washington Capitals. Sam Bennett finally found footing with the Florida Panthers after his exodus from the Calgary Flames.

In short: the glass-half-full analysis would argue that Zadina isn’t a man on the island, and second chances afforded from competing organizations have turned players around. The glass- half-empty take, of course, is that these are fleeting and rare. Three potential late-bloomers or salvaged skaters over the course of 11 years of draft picks isn’t the type of math you want to bet on.

Free tip to Zadina: if given the opportunity, I know where I’d go.

Data via Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference,