Sunday NHL Rumor Roundup – December 10, 2023
Questions about the futures of the Ducks’ Trevor Zegras and the Blue Jackets’ Patrik Laine, trade speculation regarding several Flyers defensemen and the Canucks’ Andrei Kuzmenko and growing interest in free-agent blueliner Ethan Bear. Details and more in the Sunday NHL Rumor Roundup.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR ZEGRAS AND LAINE?
THE ATHLETIC: Eric Duhatschek took note of the Anaheim Ducks’ collapse in the standings following their strong start to the season. Among the few bright spots is the solid performance of rookie center Leo Carlsson in limited action.
Should the Ducks end up winning the 2024 NHL Draft Lottery and select prospect center Macklin Celebrini, Duhatschek wondered if they would consider moving Trevor Zegras. The 22-year-old center has been on injured reserve since Nov. 10 with a lower-body injury.
The Ducks already have Carlsson and Mason McTavish who are projected to become first-line centers. If they land Celebrini, where would that leave Zegras?
Turning to the floundering Columbus Blue Jackets, Duhatschek singled out Patrik Laine’s sometimes disinterested play this season. He acknowledged the 25-year-old forward was sidelined for several games by a concussion earlier in this campaign but noted he wasn’t playing well before he got hurt.
Laine appears to be lacking confidence in his game. Duhatschek wondered if landing in Washington as the potential successor to Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin might be the change of venue he needs to regain his scoring touch.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Duhatschek isn’t saying that Zegras or Laine will be traded but he does raise interesting questions about the two forwards.
Zegras was considered the Ducks’ Golden Boy, a highly-skilled scorer whose dazzling feats made him a finalist for the Calder Memorial Trophy in 2021-22 while earning him a trip to that season’s All-Star Game. He has two straight 60-plus point seasons under his belt before 2023-24 but his sophomore campaign was still considered a disappointment.
His contract negotiations dragged on through training camp and preseason before reaching an agreement on a three-year bridge deal on Oct. 2. That cost him valuable prep time for this season and likely contributed to his current injury.
If the Ducks land Celebrini in next year’s draft perhaps they would consider moving Zegras but they could simply shift him to the wing or do the same with McTavish or Carlsson. That doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t listen to offers for Zegras, especially with the salary cap projected to jump by $4.2 million next season, making his $5.75 million cap hit through 2025-26 easier to move. Still, I think they’ll stay patient and see how things turn out regardless of what might happen in next year’s draft lottery.
Laine, meanwhile, was expected to provide the Blue Jackets with badly-needed scoring punch following his acquisition from the Winnipeg Jets in 2021. Despite injuries, he had 56 points in as many games in 2021-22 and 52 points last season in 55 contests. This season, however, Laine seems to have lost his competitive fire.
With an average annual value of $8.7 million through 2025-26 and a 10-team no-trade clause, Laine won’t be easy to move during this season. Given the anticipated increase in the cap for next season, that could be a move to consider for next summer when teams will have more cap space to work with and perhaps a willingness to take a chance on Laine.
RUMORS FROM SATURDAY’S HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA HEADLINES
SPORTSNET: During Saturday’s Headlines segment on Hockey Night in Canada, Elliotte Friedman expressed his belief that at least one team contacted the Philadelphia Flyers asking about the defense pair of Sean Walker and Nick Seeler to see if they’d be interested in dealing them together when the time comes. He indicated the Flyers are playing well right now and aren’t in any rush to make moves.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Toronto Maple Leafs recently looked into acquiring Nikita Zadorov and Chris Tanev from the Calgary Flames but that fell apart over how much of their salaries the Flames were willing to retain Zadorov was subsequently traded to the Vancouver Canucks. Perhaps Leafs general manager Brad Treliving has shifted his focus toward the City of Brotherly Love.
Walker and Seeler have surfaced in the rumor mill in recent weeks. They’re not the only Flyers defensemen to be mentioned as trade candidates. Philly Hockey Now’s Jonathan Bailey pointed out that TSN had Walker and Seeler at Nos. 6 and 7 on their latest Top-20 Trade Bait list along with Rasmus Ristolainen at No. 15.
Bailey pointed out that Ristolainen is the only one on TSN’s list with three or more years remaining on his contract beyond this season. I don’t doubt that the Flyers would like to move his contract but that could be a deal made in the offseason depending on his performance this season. Walker and Seeler, on the other hand, will be much easier to move before the March 8 trade deadline given their affordable salaries and free-agent status next July.
Friedman also reported there’s an “emerging situation” with Vancouver Canucks winger Andrei Kuzmenko. He’s been playing under 15 minutes per game in five of his last six games and has been sat twice. Other teams have called the Canucks to inquire about the 27-year-old’s status.
The Canucks are always looking to clear salary-cap room. Kuzmenko carries a $5.5 million average annual value through 2024-25 with a 12-team no-trade list.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Kuzmenko was a big hit with the Canucks in his first NHL season, scoring 39 goals and 74 points in 2022-23. He currently has just four goals and 15 points in 25 games as he seems to be in head coach Rick Tocchet’s doghouse.
There was talk of the Canucks peddling Brock Boeser or Conor Garland in cost-cutting deals going back to 2022-23 but those rumors have died away this season. Perhaps they’d consider moving Kuzmenko for a more affordable forward or defenseman who would be a better fit within Tocchet’s system.
Friedman reported Ethan Bear could be getting close to picking a team to play for this season. It’s believed the Washington Capitals have made a strong bid for the 25-year-old free-agent defenseman’s services. Friedman had felt the Vancouver Canucks might bring him back but other clubs have a salary cap advantage over them.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: A couple of days ago, The Province’s Patrick Johnston reported Bear’s agent claimed at least four clubs were interested in his client. The Canucks were among them but Johnston also noted their salary-cap constraints.