Earlier this week, the Philadelphia Flyers shockingly traded disgruntled center prospect Cutter Gauthier to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for defenseman Jamie Drysdale and a 2025 second-round draft pick. This has led to speculation that the Ducks could also trade Drysdale's best friend, 22-year-old center Trevor Zegras.
The NY Islanders should be first in line to acquire a long-term piece like Zegras this offseason. However, as of last night, it appears Zegras will be out 6-8 weeks with an ankle injury, making this a potential offseason acquisition instead. If Zegras returns in early March and shows no signs of medium- or long-term injury, he makes a lot of sense for the Isles.
While Zegras has struggled this season, those struggles are a bit overrated. Yes, Zegras only has 4 goals in 20 games, but he's also shooting around 8% when his career shooting percentage is 12%. So if Zegras was shooting his normal 12% this year, he'd have 6 goals in 20 games, which translates to 24 goals in 80 games. Zegras had 23 goals each of the last two seasons. Simple regression should lead to more pucks going in the net for Zegras.
Zegras and the Ducks agreed to a three-year contract worth $5.75M average annual value (AAV) before this season. At the end of the deal, Zegras will be in the same position as Noah Dobson will be in this offseason: he can accept a qualifying offer for the 2026-27 season and walk himself directly to UFA on July 1, 2027. However, since Zegras' actual salary is $5.75M every year of this deal, his qualifying offer would be that same $5.75M
So any acquiring team gets three years of Zegras at a reasonable $5.75M AAV. Even before considering a long-term extension down the line, that's pretty terrific value for a player who put up back-to-back 60+ point seasons on moribund Anaheim teams at age 20 and 21.
Needless to say, the Islanders' prospect pool is not the strongest, and many teams are bound to be in these conversations. Accordingly, a deal like this would have to get creative. One option is to bring in a third team by, say, dealing Alexander Romanov for assets and flipping those assets in a Zegras deal.
But there is one player in this organization that probably gets a deal done, and as much as Isles fans may cringe at first, there's reason to consider the following proposal. Does Noah Dobson get a deal done here?
Remember, Dobson is in an enviable position himself. If the Islanders don't pony up this summer, he can simply accept his qualifying offer and walk directly to UFA on July 1, 2025. So, while Dobson has emerged as a star this year, the surplus value is not going to extend further - as a consequence of bridging Dobson three years ago. Starting next season, Dobson is going to require a massive cap hit at the same time that Ilya Sorokin, Mathew Barzal, Bo Horvat, etc. are all getting paid very highly.
The Islanders would have Zegras locked in at a sub-$6M cap hit for three years after this one. That, plus the cap increase, would leave the Islanders in a great position cap-wise. Zegras could be a long-term replacement for Brock Nelson up the middle or, judging by his career 40% faceoff percentage, a star winger. And remember: Zegras is only 22. The upside here is tantalizing. How many other 20-and-21-year olds are putting up back-to-back 60+ point seasons on bad teams?
Perhaps the acquisition of Zegras allows the Islanders to buy out or trade somebody like Kyle Palmieri this offseason which would open up another $5M in cap space. They can then use the additional cap space to backfill on defense. I'm a firm believer that an NHL defense is easier to build as a corps, whereas individually skilled star forwards are both harder to acquire and necessary to win.
My verdict? Even considering Dobson's next contract, I simply can't make this deal straight up. Dobson himself is only 24; he looks like a legitimate Norris Trophy contender. And I believe Dobson has a good chance to continue this level of play through his prime; after all, there is nothing fluky about his performance this season.
But what if the Ducks threw in last year's QMJHL defenseman of the year Tristan Luneau? Now we're cooking. Luneau is 19 years old and had 83 points in 65 games last season in the Q. This season, Luneau played seven games for Anaheim at 19 years old, putting up 3 points in 7 games. More importantly, he was positive on a very negative team (yes, plus/minus is not a great stat, but if you're positive on a negative team, it can tell you something about a player), and did not look out of place for a minute in the NHL.
So: Noah Dobson to Anaheim (with an expensive extension) for Trevor Zegras and Tristan Luneau. Who says no?
Regardless, considering Zegras's age and contract, this is the precise kind of player the Islanders should be pursuing whenever possible. The mindset of the front office should be finding young, cost-effective players with upside, and nobody on the market combines those factors better than Zegras.