The Pittsburgh Penguins have won a Stanley Cup every year since Phil Kessel has been on them. Ever since GM Jim Rutherford traded for the speedy sniper two years ago, he has seen the Penguins win a pair of championships.
But is Kessel time running up in Pittsburgh? Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette hinted that the Penguins may look to trade him in the near future. Here is what he had to say:
“I believe Phil Kessel will be traded. It might not happen this week or this month or even this offseason. But I believe it will happen sooner rather than later."
So the trade speculation shall now begin. Kessel is among the NHL's top scorers -- having scored at least 20 every year since 2008-09. That includes five 30-goal campaigns. Kessel is the opposite of a box full of chocolates -- you DO know what you're gonna get.
Now's a good time to speculate as to which teams will want Kessel. And for 7 other teams? Sorry, but dream on.
15 Want: Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers may have landed Nolan Patrick with the second overall pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, but they're still far from ready to compete with their inner state rivals. What if they could magically convince the Penguins to ship away Kessel to their arch rivals? We've seen crazier things happen.
For Pittsburgh, trading Kessel would mean they would want younger and cheaper players of nearly equal value in return. The Flyers are loaded with quality forwards like Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds and Sean Couturier, among others.
Pittsburgh knows teams won't give up a whole lot to trade for a 30-year-old who has five years left on a deal that averages out to be $8 million a season. Perhaps a Simmonds-for-Kessel swap is all it would take for the two Pennsylvania squads to work out a deal.
Philly needs more starpower to compete for titles, and Kessel would bring that.
14 Stay Away: Boston Bruins
The Bruins were the team that drafted Phil Kessel, only to trade him away to the Toronto Maple Leafs before the 2009-10 season took place. Boston didn't want to pay Kessel what he was worth, and he refused to work out a team-friendly deal. You have to imagine the bad blood remains there for both parties.
Boston won't have any desire to bring back Kessel at this point, and nor would he ever accept a trade to go back there. Furthermore, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense for the Bruins to land him.
This team carries too many expensive contracts with players in their 30s (Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Tuukka Rask, David Backes and David Krejci). They also have more than enough forwards, so picking up Kessel's expensive contract doesn't come with a lot of benefits.
13 Want: Minnesota Wild
The Wild have been pulling off so many big trades and free agent signings, and yet they've experienced very little playoff success. Time's running out for this group to win now, as Central Division rivals like the Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators figure to be long-term contenders.
Minnesota has one of the best defensive units and an elite goalie in Devan Dubnyk, but they need a dynamic scorer like Kessel. The Wild could package a forward like Nino Niederreiter, Jason Zucker or Charlie Coyle for Kessel's services.
Getting Kessel would make them a much better team. The Penguins would shed vital cap space and would get a quality player who carries a much more affordable salary. The Wild are ideal trade partners for the Penguins, and getting Kessel would be among the best moves this franchise could ever make.
12 Stay Away: Colorado Avalanche
The odds of you marrying your biggest celebrity crush are much higher than the Colorado Avalanche trading for Phil Kessel.
You see, Colorado is entering a rebuilding stage that shall soon see stars Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog traded as Joe Sakic tries to reconstruct this team. On the other side, Kessel would definitely not accept a trade to the Avalanche -- and can you blame them?
This team lost head coach Patrick Roy via resignation -- he grew frustrated with management's unwillingness to make big trades. Sakic has done next to nothing in the front office, and the fans in Colorado are getting fed up with this mess. Do you really think Colorado and Kessel would work together? Not a chance. It's just not going to happen.
11 Want: Florida Panthers
The Panthers are looking to rebound after a dreadful 2016-17 season that saw them miss the playoffs just a year after taking home the Atlantic Division. Florida's rivals (Montreal, Toronto, Detroit and Tampa Bay), made significant moves in the offseason to get better, but the Panthers have stood pat for the most part.
So why not pull the trigger on a Kessel trade? The Panthers have already lost Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, Jaromir Jagr and Jussi Jokinen, so the top-six is lacking in depth. Kessel would be terrific on a team that includes Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck and Jonathan Huberdeau.
Florida has some good prospects they could dangle in order to entice Pittsburgh on a trade. Perhaps they trade away a player like Huberdeau or even Nick Bjugstad -- who would surely post high numbers with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. The Panthers need a big-time scorer like Kessel, and they have the assets to pull off a trade.
10 Stay Away: Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets are loaded with quality scorers, so adding Phil Kessel isn't exactly a necessity. But you have to go back to his history with Jackets head coach John Tortorella to understand why a trade to Columbus isn't going to happen.
As you may recall, Kessel was left off of USA's 2016 World Cup of Hockey team. Kessel was clearly disgusted by being exempt, and posted this tweet as the Americans struggled in the tournament:
Just sitting around the house tonight w my dog. Felt like I should be doing something important, but couldn't put my finger on it.— Phil Kessel (@PKessel81) September 21, 2016
Tortorella called it "self-serving" and clearly doesn't care for Kessel's attitude. And oh, the Pittsburgh and Columbus rivalry is real in the Metropolitan Division. These two teams hate each other, and there's no way they'd be willing to do business right now. Did I mention that Tortorella and Kessel don't like each other?
9 Want: Ottawa Senators
It's safe to say that if Phil Kessel was on the Senators and not the Penguins in 2017, then Ottawa would have probably reached the Stanley Cup Final. But Kessel was a thorn in the side of the Sens, and he helped Pittsburgh take down Ottawa in seven games.
The main reason Ottawa lost that series? They simply didn't have anyone who could score the big goals. A shame, because their defence against the Pens' high-flying offence was near perfect for most of the series.
So yeah, if Ottawa could work out a Kessel trade, that would be great. He'd score 25-30 goals with them, and this team's ultimate weakness would be gone. They have some great forwards on bargain contracts (Derick Brassard, Mike Hoffan, J.G. Pageau, Ryan Dzingel, among others), to do a swap for Kessel.
The Sens really need a scorer like Kessel, and they have so many assets to package in a trade for him.
8 Stay Away: New York Rangers
According to CapFriendly.com, the Rangers have just over $7.4 million left in cap space, so trading for Kessel's contract (a cap hit of $8 million a season), is just not going to happen. Even if they could clear cap space to take on his deal, it simply doesn't make sense for the Rangers.
This is a team that has a ridiculous amount of depth at forward. This includes Mika Zibanejad, Mats Zuccarrello, Michael Grabner, J.T. Miller, Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes and Jimmy Vesey. So why on earth would they want to add Kessel -- when he's ageing, expensive and not needed there?
The Rangers would get two or three good years out of Kessel before that contract becomes a toxic waste. This team needs to worry more about adding depth on their blue line while preparing for the post-Henrik Lundqvist era. Trading for Kessel would not do a whole lot to upgrade their championship hopes.
7 Want: Anaheim Ducks
Is the Ducks championship window closing? Well, Ryan Getzlaf (32), Corey Perry (32), and Ryan Kesler (33), are all getting up there in age. This doesn't bode well for a Ducks team that plays in the Pacific Division -- where rivals like Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver are loading up on young talent.
The Ducks should be ultra-aggressive in trying to win a Stanley Cup now. They're starting to wear down as their core players carry more and more mileage on their bodies. Trading for Kessel to skate on a line with Getzlaf or Kesler wouuld put make them the team to beat in the West.
Anaheim has some good young forwards like Jakob Silfverberg, Rickard Rackell and Nick Ritchie that could be used in a Kessel trade. Pittsburgh would happily do business with Anaheim, since they'd get younger and cheaper should Ducks' GM Bob Murray willingly do business.
6 Stay Away: Buffalo Sabres
So it seems like a lot of folks believe Phil Kessel has character issues. Well, Sabres forward Evander Kane can relate. He was traded away from Winnipeg because of his behavior, and he has been charged with harassment off the ice.
Kane's departure from Buffalo seems inevitable, so why would the Sabres want to replace him with a player like Kessel? Furthermore, why would Kessel want to join a Buffalo team that's been ran to the ground because of questionable ownership and awful management?
The Sabres also have to save salary cap space to pay up Jack Eichel in the near future. Throw in that is just so much wrong with the franchise right now, and there's no way Kessel would willingly accept a deal there.
Sorry Sabres fans, but your team doesn't want Kessel. And he doesn't want to go there.
5 Want: Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens' inability to reach the Stanley Cup Final in the Carey Price era can be pinpointed by one thing: Offence.
This team has the world's best goalie and one of the best shutdown defensive groups, but there isn't much scoring outside of power forward Max Pacioretty. GM Marc Bergevin did trade for Jonathan Drouin in order to address that issue, but the Habs could use another winger -- especially if they want Alex Galchenyuk to take on the role as their No. 1 centre.
Enter Phil Kessel. A sure thing to score 20-30 goals a season. His blazing speed would go well on a Montreal team that is among the fastest groups in the NHL.
What would Montreal have to give up for him? Well, Bergevin would probably have to give up a player like Brendan Gallagher or Paul Byron -- along with prospects and picks. But the Habs time to win is now, so Bergevin should be ultra aggressive in pursuing Kessel.
4 Stay Away: Dallas Stars
No general manager has had a better offseason than Stars GM Jim Nill. He addressed this team's horribleness in goal by signing elite goalie Ben Bishop. He fixed up the team's defensive woes by trading for Marc Methot while signing shutdown 6-foot-6 centreman, Martin Hanzal.
And oh, he signed Alexander Radulov to complement the likes of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza on offence. In short, the Stars have all the makings to be a championship contender.
So why trade for Kessel? This team doesn't need him. Scoring has not been a problem in Dallas during the Benn-Seguin era. Also, Kessel's ridiculous contract would really hurt Dallas in the future -- considering all the veterans they already have locked up on long-term deals.
The Stars don't need Kessel. Trading for him comes with more risks than rewards. There's no way he winds up in the Lone Star State.
3 Want: Washington Capitals
The Capitals have been eliminating by the Penguins in the second round of the last two postseasons. Phil Kessel has been a reason why -- scoring 11 points in those two playoff series against Alexander Ovechkin's squad.
Washington got significantly worse this offseason, losing Justin Williams, Karl Alzner, Kevin Shattenkirk, Marcus Johansson and Nate Schmidt because of salary cap constraints. They really need another scorer, and Kessel makes sense.
Would the Pens willingly deal Kessel to Washington? Sure, if the price is right. The Capitals could offer up a defenceman like Matt Niskanen or Dmitry Orlov, plus draft picks and prospects.
Let me make it clear that it's unlikely the Penguins would be willing to trade him to Washington. But the Capitals absolutely need him, and if they're willing to give Pittsburgh an extremely generous offer, then Ovechkin and Kessel could be on the same team. Scary thought, isn't it?
2 Stay Away: Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs traded for Kessel back in 2009, as GM Brian Burke gave up a pair of first-round selections that turned out to be Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton. Despite Kessel's talents in Toronto, the Leafs faithful couldn't help but kind of be mad that the trade happened.
Kessel was basically ran out of town following a dismal 2014-15 season. The Leafs were awful in the second half, and Kessel struggled big time in the final months. They practically gave him away to the Penguins -- desperate to get rid of that lucrative contract.
Toronto also has one of the best forwards groups in the NHL. Allow me to remind you that Auston Matthews will soon be a $100 million man, and Mitch Marner, William Nylander and others will soon be in line for big extensions. The Maple Leafs and Kessel had a bitter end to their relationship, and they can't take on his big contract at this point.
There's zero chance he returns.
1 Want: Tampa Bay Lightning
A surprise entry? Perhaps, but boy are the Lightning an ideal match for Kessel.
This team has all the makings to finally win a championship in the Steven Stamkos era. They have a perennial 40-goal man, a world class defenceman in Victor Hedman and recently added former Penguin Chris Kunitz to their arsenal of weapons.
The Lightning haven't been able to win that elusive championship under Stamkos, so trading for Kessel is a necessity. Could you imagine him playing with Stammer, Nikita Kucherov and Tyler Johnson?
GM Steve Yzerman could trade someone like Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat or Ryan Callahan for Kessel. He may have to include multiple assets, but he has plenty of them to make a deal work. Tampa would undoubtedly be the team to beat in the NHL if they could land Kessel. They should push for a Kessel trade more than any other squad.
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