After 44 games of their 2022-23 regular season, the Florida Panthers have registered a 20-20-4 record. They sit five points out of a Stanley Cup Playoff position in the Eastern Conference and have played more games than the two teams they need to leap frog.
General manager (GM) Bill Zito is going to find himself in a tough spot ahead of the trade deadline on March 3, as the Panthers have aspirations of making the postseason, but also shedding some contracts to create more financial flexibility moving forward. Moving out some of the team’s pending free agents will help, and one player to watch is defenseman Radko Gudas. Here’s three potential trade destinations for the rugged blueliner:
The Pittsburgh Penguins have dealt with some injuries to their roster this season and are likely in the market for adding another defenseman ahead of the trade deadline. Penguins GM Ron Hextall isn’t shy to make a bold move and this season it appears the Pens will go after some more sandpaper on their blue line and also look for a third-line shut-down center. Gudas certainly checks the first box
Gudas owns a $2.5 million cap hit this season and so far in 34 games, has recorded six points. He’s managed to block 55 shots and also thrown an impressive 130 hits, ranking him first and second on his team respectably. Gudas’ 130 hits would rank him first on the Penguins, and is almost 50 more than their top-ranked defenseman.
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Pittsburgh doesn’t have a ton of cap space to work with entering the trade deadline season, so it’s likely a money in/money out type of trade here. It’s also a deal where the Penguins would have to overpay, as the Panthers are trying to catch Pittsburgh in the standings. The acquisition cost would likely be a second or third-round pick, an NHL roster player and a mid-level prospect who has some potential left in the tank. Certainly something Hextall should mull over if he’s looking to add more physicality ahead of the deadline.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning know Gudas very well and could have some interest this season. The Bolts are likely in the market for some more depth on their blue line ahead of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and adding Gudas would make them much tougher to play against.
The Lightning want to get back to the promise land and back to the top of the NHL. Their GM Julien BriseBois has never been shy ahead of the trade deadline as he’s shown year after year he’s willing to make a couple of additions to his roster to give his team the added boost they need.
While the Lightning already don’t have a first or second-round pick at the upcoming draft, there 2024 second rounder could be in play. This trade will depend on the level of confidence Tampa Bay has with the likes of Cal Foote, Zach Bogosian and Nick Perbix, who all would battle Gudas for playing time. If any of these three Lightning defenders falter or take a step back over the next six weeks, look for management to get aggressive on the trade market and Gudas is certainly a candidate to acquire.
Speaking of teams with Stanley Cup rings, the Colorado Avalanche will be in the market for adding a defenseman before the trade deadline and could have interest in bringing in a rugged blueliner like Gudas.
Avs’ management has plenty of cap space to work with ahead of March 3 and could easily fit in Gudas’ remaining cap hit. There’s no commitment after this season as he’s a pending unrestricted free agent. This would likely be a pure rental and could give the Avalanche another element of sandpaper heading into the postseason.
Colorado is known as a speed and skill team and right now have some unestablished defensemen on their NHL roster. Their interest in adding someone like Gudas will depend on the health of Josh Manson and Bowen Byram, who are currently out with injuries. The Avalanche are thin on their blue line depth and could really use to add a veteran like Gudas who knows what he is and brings it every night.
The Panthers are going to have some options when it comes to moving Gudas. Defensemen are like pitchers in baseball, you can never have enough heading into the postseason. There’s going to be a big market for Gudas and the likes of the Avalanche, Lightning and Penguins will be interested. It’s all going to come down to the asking price of what exactly Zito and the Panthers are looking for.
Shane’s been a part of The Hockey Writers team since 2020, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs & Pittsburgh Penguins. A constant contributor, his versatile perspective on game results and everything off the ice produces diverse content. You can also find him on the Maple Leafs Lounge podcast with Peter Baracchini and Alex Hobson. Follow along on Twitter @ShugMcSween