Here’s something you don’t hear everyday, we may see a major trade between two rivals in the NHL. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers are two teams to watch this season as they’re headed in opposite directions and could be able to help each other out by doing business together.
This stems from the latest buzz circulating around Penguins forward Jason Zucker and a potential move that reportedly almost transpired over the summer. According to Sam Carchidi of Philadelphia Hockey Now, he believes the Flyers contacted Penguins general manager Ron Hextall about a potential Zucker deal.
The Flyers reportedly asked for a first-round pick to take Zucker off the Penguins’ hands, but Ron Hextall wanted no part of moving a first-round pick for a salary dump. You can’t blame him when we all know how valuable first-rounders are and he proved he had just enough money to get all the business done he needed to this past offseason.
Zucker Being Traded to Philly Still a Possibility
While it may not be the Flyers at this very moment, there’s certainly potential for a deal to transpire. Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher knows Zucker extremely well as he was responsible for drafting him with the Minnesota Wild back in 2010. Unfortunately for Penguins fans, they haven’t seen the same type of player in Pittsburgh, who was putting up 33 goals and 64-point seasons in Minnesota.
Zucker is a pending unrestricted free agent who carries a $5.5 million cap hit for this season. He holds a no-trade clause, which protects him from 10 teams. Considering his relationship with Fletcher, Zucker likely would be open to the move.
Heading into training camp, the veteran forward will have every opportunity to shine as he’ll be battling it out with Danton Heinen for reps on the left side of the second line alongside Evgeni Malkin and Rickard Rakell. This internal competition will be one of the many things to watch when camp opens up in a couple of weeks.
Zucker Won’t Be in the 2023-24 Plans in Pittsburgh
It’s going to take an absolute comeback season for the ages for Hextall to consider bringing back the 30-year-old winger. The Penguins currently have just over $20 million in cap space next summer, but they have some major decisions to make on starting goaltender Tristan Jarry, who is also a pending unrestricted free agent.
Jarry’s entering a massive contract year and is going to be the focal point this season for the Penguins. If he has a contract season, he’s likely going to see a long-term extension starting around $6 million per season. Defenseman Brian Dumoulin’s contract is also up after this season, as well as a number of depth forwards up front. Unfortunately, it’s going to take a small miracle from Zucker in 2022-23 for Hextall to have any interest in a reunion.
Flyers Have Some Interesting Trade Chips
The Flyers have been in the news lately as new head coach John Tortorella is already concerned about his team and he hasn’t even coached a practice. “Torts” believes the team has a culture issue and feels the demons begin in the dressing room. Talk about starting off on the right foot.
The Flyers have been trying to unload forward James van Riemsdyk and his $7 million cap hit for this season. The Penguins want no part of this contract; however, if it’s 50 percent retained, perhaps they’d consider a deadline deal to bring him in for the stretch run. He showed last season with his 24 goals that he’s still capable of lighting the lamp. At this point, van Riemsdyk would be an upgrade on Zucker for the Pens.
Flyers forward Travis Konecny is another potential trade chip to watch. Unfortunately, the right-wing position is a bit of a log jam with Bryan Rust, Rakell and Kasperi Kapanen, so there’s issues there with “fit.” Seeing the Flyers move a 25-year-old winger who has the potential to still become an impact player to their rivals, would certainly be an interesting deal. Konecny has three seasons left on his contract and is coming off of a 52-point season.
Taking everything into account here, Zucker will have a bright spotlight on his back come training camp as the Penguins will be holding him accountable to produce as a top-six winger. Anything less won’t go unnoticed, and while it may start with a demotion to the third line, it could eventually mean a deadline trade takes place in 2022-23. Hextall has shown he’s capable of wheeling and dealing this summer, so perhaps he has another trick up his sleeve — a trick that may involve one of the team’s biggest rivals.