Even though the Stanley Cup Final is still intriguingly up for grabs, three teams — the Blue Jackets, Flyers and Kings — revved the offseason trade market into high gear this past week with a meaningful deal that touched every aspect of what’s involved in a modern transaction. There was help for the present (for Columbus), hope for the future (for Philadelphia) and the always-sticky issue of how to shoehorn a contending lineup under the NHL salary cap (for Los Angeles).
The Kings bought themselves cap space by trading away their No. 3 goalie (Cal Petersen) and No. 7 defenseman (Sean Walker) and used the proceeds to extend pending UFA defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov, who took a two-year deal, in the hopes that when the salary cap does jump a year or two from now, he’ll be able to cash in, in a more consequential way.
Of course, here at The Athletic, we are always willing to lend a hand to NHL general managers by conjuring up trades that would be bold, helpful and move the needle for them and their teams. Of late, GMs have tended to be a conservative bunch. We’re hoping Wednesday’s deal ushers in a newer, more creative era. Let’s ponder a few other possibilities, with the 2023 NHL Draft fewer than three weeks away, using one of our favorite column vehicles. Here are five trades we’d like to see happen.
Ducks trade Trevor Zegras to the Blue Jackets for the No. 3 pick in 2023
This made a lot more sense Thursday night, when I was dreaming it up, than on Friday morning, when the Blue Jackets went out and committed $50 million to add defenseman Damon Severson in a sign-and-trade with the New Jersey Devils. But let’s go down this rabbit hole anyway, given how aggressive Columbus is being here in the early days of the offseason.
There was speculation a few weeks back that the Blues Jackets would consider moving the No. 3 pick in a top-heavy draft to Calgary for center Elias Lindholm, provided Lindholm was prepared to sign a contract extension, like what they did with Severson. The theory behind trading for Lindholm would be to reunite him with last year’s big Columbus offseason UFA add, Johnny Gaudreau, who had 115 points playing with him in their final year together in Calgary. But what if the Blue Jackets used that pick to trade for Zegras instead, so that he could play with Gaudreau?
Zegras is 22 and was drafted at No. 9 in 2019. He led the Ducks with 65 points in 81 games last season, and picked up 88 penalty minutes, many of them for undisciplined play. On the plus side, he is a human highlight reel because of his deft hands and has enormous value to Anaheim as a box-office attraction at a time when the Ducks are early in a rebuild and are already having a hard time selling tickets. But he is also a restricted free agent and due a big raise. If Cole Caufield’s new contract — eight years, $7.85 million AAV — sets the bar, Zegras is going to want more.
Once he signs, he’s going to become a really expensive player on a budget team. Part of the reason for hiring Greg Cronin as the Ducks’ new coach is to add discipline and structure, something Zegras probably needs to get to the next level.