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Should Offensively Starved Flyers Revisit Their Interest in Trevor Zegras?

(Heather Barry Images, LLC)

Every offseason brings about a whole new crop of young and talented players that either get placed on the chopping block by their respected clubs or essentially ask to be moved – without officially requesting a trade.

The Anaheim Ducks’ Trevor Zegras will be a very popular name heading into the draft and free agent frenzy with several teams having expressed interest in the 23-year-old centre. Should the Ducks revisit their plans in moving on from Zegras, the Philadelphia Flyers should be front and centre.

For a club that is absolutely deprived off top-end offensive talent, the Flyers have an opportunity to add Zegras and improve their offense in a hurry this summer. The Ducks haven’t been shy with Zegras as they have expressed interest in moving on from the youngster as recently as this past season, but as every general manager utters, “the deal has to make sense”.

As has been the case in the past, whenever RFAs take their contract talks to the very last minute, it generally never ends well for the player. There’s almost an unwritten rule in hockey where you avoid doing that as well as going into arbitration. The latter has occurred a little more often in recent memory but it’s still something to avoid if you want to remain on the team.

The Ducks had two players who took their contract extension negotiations to the bitter end in Zegras and Jamie Drysdale. The former signed a 3-year deal worth $5.75 million per season on the 2nd of October – 12 days before the start of the regular season – whereas the latter signed a 3-year deal worth $6.9 million per season on the 5th of October. Contract talks get nasty and ugly the longer you wait and that’s essentially what happened with Zegras, according to Frank Seravalli the day after Drysdale was traded to Philadelphia.

“I’ve got my eyes on Trevor Zegras. In speaking with teams around the league, they suggest that Zegras’ name has been out there, and in play. And while that may be a bit of a surprise for a guy who was a cover athlete on NHL 23 and has scored some incredible highlight reel goals, I think the truth is I don’t know many people believe Trevor Zegras meshes with the ultimate view of how (Ducks GM) Pat Verbeek wants to see the Anaheim Ducks play and their style. That loss could be someone else’s gain.

“Certainly not saying that anything is imminent, but the fact that Zegras’ name has been out there, the fact they opened training camp this season and they didn’t have Trevor Zegras there because this contract dispute was ongoing, which at times I think probably got pretty nasty, he’s got two years left on this bridge deal at $5.75 per. He’s hit 60-plus points in back-to-back years.

“I think there’s some question to whether he’s truly a centre or a wing in the NHL, but I think another team would be pretty happy to find out what that answer is and grab him.

“Again, not predicting or projecting that there’s a move before the deadline, but the fact his name is in play — and now that you add another piece in Gauthier — it certainly kind of feels like after Drysdale, another guy who went through a contract dispute this past summer and took a long time to sign, he’s gone, maybe Zegras is next.

“It probably would’ve been really best to do it last summer before the contract dispute, before this season got off to a rocky start with just one goal in his first 12 games, the start before the injury. Before all those things, and not to say it spiralled, but it certainly has been a pretty tough start to the season for Trevor Zegras that probably would’ve been in the Ducks best interest and his to get a clean start elsewhere.”

The deal took a long time to materialize because the Ducks were offering Zegras a bridge deal with an AAV in the range of $3 million-$4 million, according to Renaud Lavoie. Zegras eventually got the AAV to increase to $5.75 million but his 2023-24 season was nothing to write home about and we have a better understanding as to why that is now.

Zegras also suffered a broken ankle back in January that had him sidelined for 6-8 weeks. He only played 2:05 on the 9th of January against the Nashville Predators before leaving the game with the injury. He didn’t come back to the lineup until the 26th of March, a stretch of 8 weeks. He went without a point in his first 3 games upon his return before finishing the season with 2 goals and 8 points in his final 8 games.

On the season as a whole, Zegras scored just 6 goals and 15 points in 31 games, a far cry from his previous two seasons where he tallied 61 and 65 points, respectively. He didn’t score his first goal until the 8th game of the season – the 7-4 drubbing against the Flyers – and he had just 4 goals and 7 points in 20 games before the injury.

The Ducks as a whole struggled mightily last season as they finished with the 3rd-worst record in the NHL at 27-50-5. Frank Vatrano led the team with 37 goals and 60 points in 82 games, Troy Terry came in second with 20 goals and 54 points, and he was followed by Mason McTavish‘s 19 goals and 42 points in 64 games. They had just two more players cross the 40-point mark, dealt with a mess of injuries to some of their top young players, and scored just 203 goals as a collective unit, which was third to the bottom ahead of just San Jose and Chicago.

As Seravalli pointed out, Ducks general manager Pat Verbeek doesn’t seem too eager to include Zegras apart of his future core and his play style doesn’t reflect the coaching of Greg Cronin. Their core will be pinned around Terry who is signed for another 6 years, Leo Carlsson, and Cutter Gauthier who have two years remaining on their entry-level deals, McTavish who has one year remaining on his rookie deal, and potentially Vatrano unless they move him at the deadline.

Defensively, they have Pavel Mintyukov and Olen Zellweger who each have two years remaining on their entry-level deals and a trio of young defensemen who all need new contracts in Jackson LaCombe, Gustav Lindström, and Urho Vaakanainen. Their defensive depth allowed them to move on from Drysdale but it also helped that they were receiving a stud in Gauthier in return.

Looking even deeper, the Ducks also have prospects in Nathan Gaucher, Sasha Pastujov, and Tristan Luneau who are on the cusp of joining AHL San Diego at the very least this season. That’s on top of the fact that they have the third overall pick this year, which could be used on a prospect like Ivan Demidov, Cayden Lindstrom, or Artyom Levshunov.

The Ducks have plenty of time to make their decisions, have plenty of cap space to work with, and most of their free agents that need new contracts this summer are RFAs which only makes things that much easier for Verbeek and company. They have a bunch of players to handle this year, next year, and 2 years from now but with most of them being restricted free agents, it makes things more palatable.

It’s no guarantee that all of their prospects turn into bonafide studs, but we’ve seen enough from players like Terry and McTavish to make a resolute statement. Carlsson had a good rookie season despite battling through injuries, Gauthier just played in the one game but had another amazing season in the NCAA, and Mintyukov took a big step in his rookie year as he essentially usurped Drysdale before the trade occurred.

What also helps is that the Flyers and the Ducks already have a good relationship after striking a deal this past season, Zegras has a lot of connections with Drysdale, Cam York, and Joel Farabee, and his addition to the lineup gives the Flyers a legitimate top-line centre with offensive punch.

His playing style might not mesh entirely with John Tortorella but there’s no denying that the Flyers need a player of his ilk. Travis Konecny cannot be your go-to-guy moving forward and that’s not because he’s not capable, but it’s based on his playing style. He can drive play, he can generate and create, but at his core he’s more of a goal scorer and he desperately needs a centre to play with to elevate his game and vice versa. The last thing the Flyers need is to run Konecny into the ground because they couldn’t find him any capable running mates.

Sean Couturier‘s return to the lineup was a boon to begin with but he eventually – as expected – hit a wall by the midpoint of the season and never recovered. In his first 41 games, Couturier scored 10 goals and 30 points while averaging 19:59 of ice time per game. He finished the year with 1 goal, 8 points, and a minus-22 rating in his last 33 games, which included him being named captain, being made a healthy scratch, and playing on the fourth line for several weeks as evidenced by his ATOI dropping to 15:08.

After Couturier, the Flyers’ next best option at the centre position is Morgan Frost. He had a decent 2023-24 season that initially saw him in the press box more often than not. He rattled off a 49-game stretch between the 9th of December and the 1st of April where he tallied 10 goals and 36 points, but that was sandwiched in between 2 runs where he combined for 3 goals and 5 points in 22 games.

The jury is still out on Frost, who has one year remaining at a modest cap hit of $2.1 million, but if the Flyers do swing for a Zegras trade, he might be someone who the Ducks want in return. The Flyers themselves have a lot of moving pieces to attend to next summer which includes core players like Konecny, York, and Tyson Foerster needing new contracts.

Elliotte Friedman touched base on the Flyers and Zegras ahead of the trade deadline on 32 Thoughts: The Podcast:

“Philly might be doing a little bit of adding,” Friedman said. “And this to me is the real tell. I’m not talking big adds — unless it’s going to be a player that is going to be there for a long time. I do think that Philly has taken a look at Zegras. I just don’t know if they have what Anaheim wants. I don’t know if there is a fit there. Or, [don’t know] if they’re willing to pay what Anaheim wants. I don’t know if there is a match there, but I think they have looked at it.”

The Flyers need to shuffle the deck a little bit with their offense stagnating in recent years with the same cast and crew present. If the Ducks are interested in a swap that involves Frost plus another asset, Daniel Brière should definitely consider pulling the trigger. Frost has a lot of upside and potential and while he has shown up in flashes, it hasn’t come at the consistency that the Flyers have been hoping for.

In a perfect world, being able to have Zegras and Frost as your 1-2 punch down the middle wouldn’t be the worst idea, but the Ducks might want to replace his offense with someone capable.

Flyers fan born in the heart of Leafs nation

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