Phil Kessel's as good as gone.
This site reported May 2 that he was by far the most likely to go of all the possible trade candidates, and that was supported Tuesday when Michael Russo of Minneapolis, one of the continent's most respected beat writers, reported the Wild are shopping forwards Jason Zucker and Victor Rask and included Kessel among that team's prospective targets. It's since been supported across the continent, notably Pierre LeBrun of Quebec reporting yesterday Kessel might not want to go to Minnesota, which isn't on the eight-team YES list in his limited no-movement clause.
Here's what I've got to add:
• As I wrote in my original report, the trade was always most likely to wind up a contract-for-contract trade. More specifically, they'd be unwanted contracts. Zucker, 27, is owed $5.5 million annually on average through 2022-23 and had 21 goals, 21 assists this past season. The previous season, he had 33 and 31. Rask, 26, is owed $4 million annually on average through 2021-22, and his career's been sliding for years, bottoming out at three goals in 49 games this past season. These certainly fit the criteria.
• A defenseman will be moved, as I also wrote in my original report. If the goal is good hockey return, that'll be Olli Maatta. If it's part of something like the scenario above, it could be an unattractive contract such as that of unfairly maligned but definitely overcommitted Jack Johnson, who's due $3.5 million annually on average for another four seasons. That said, I've never heard Johnson's name in this context from inside the Penguins.
• At the risk of repeating excessively, Kessel's kaput here. It's not just the diminished production and presence in the second half of this past season. It's outright insubordination with Mike Sullivan and it's a passion for gambling away from the rink, both having irked upper management. There's nothing remotely wrong with gambling, of course, and that's recognized by all concerned. But if that involved, as two sources have confirmed for me, being out doing that late on the night before the Penguins faced elimination in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and that became known by most everyone with the team ... let's just say that didn't sit well.
• Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang aren't on any trade docket, as I'd anticipated. Doesn't mean either has been ruled out, but moves of that scope tend not to sneak up on anyone. The moment one team is alerted, it's out.
• Look for Mitch Keller to make his major-league debut sooner rather than later. The Pirates are very encouraged with the development of Keller’s hybrid slider/cut fastball at Class AAA Indianapolis. They want him to have a third pitch to go along with his fastball and curveball. When I asked various Pirates people if they felt Keller could possibly debut sometime in June, all answered in the affirmative. In nine starts at Indy, the 23-year-old is 5-0 with a 3.45 ERA and 1.26 WHIP, striking out 56 in 47 innings. He allowed one run in seven innings to win his latest start Tuesday night. – Perrotto
• Beset yet again by calf problems in his rehab assignment at Indianapolis, Lonnie Chisenhall is at least considering retirement. The same injury limited Chisenhall to 29 games last season with the Indians. Something that will factor into Chisenhall’s decision, though, is he would forfeit the remainder of his $2.75-million salary for this season if he goes on the voluntarily retired list. -- Perrotto
• The success of Angels pitcher/designated hitter Shohei Ohtani last season when he was the American League Rookie of the Year was certain to spawn imitators, and the Pirates are at the front of the line. The organization is in the process of making Indianapolis outfielder JB Shuck and Class AA Altoona infielder Alfredo Reyes part-time relievers. It would be a little more difficult for the Pirates to manage the workloads of Shuck and Reyes in relief roles as opposed to how the Angels utilized Ohtani as a once-a-week starter. The Reds have a hybrid reliever/outfielder, Michael Lorenzen, and as Cincinnati manager David Bell told me earlier this season, “There’s a certain amount of planning that goes into it. You can’t just necessarily use him at one position or the other on the spur of the moment.” – Perrotto
• Despite the near obsession over the matter by both the Pirates and the hardcore portion of their fan base, Jacob Stallings passed through waivers and was outrighted to Class AAA Indianapolis last week, removing him from the 40-man roster. Stallings is a nice depth piece to have in the minor leagues, which is how other teams view him and why he went unclaimed. It’s reminiscent of when current bench coach Tom Prince was a catcher for the Pirates from 1987-93. Every time the Pirates tried to send him to the minors, they worried he would not clear waivers. Yet, he always cleared. The moral of the story: Teams often overvalue their fringe players. – Perrotto
• Cole Tucker was the Pirates’ first-round draft pick in 2014, the 24th overall selection. His younger brother, Carson, could go even higher in next year’s draft. Carson Tucker has followed in his brother’s footsteps to star at Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix, where he is a rising senior. Many scouts and draft analysts believe he will go in the upper half of the first round in 2020. Like Cole, Carson Tucker is a shortstop. – Perrotto
• Ramon Foster was considered a goner as free agency began this year. It was all but a given that he would receive an offer to go elsewhere. In fact, the Steelers had told offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert he was in their plans right up until the day before both Foster and Maurkice Pouncey were signed to contract extensions. Gilbert was dealt to the Cardinals the next day for a sixth-round draft pick. How did that come about? "I missed his phone call two times," Foster said of Pouncey. "I knew something was going on. He said 'Ramon, you won't believe what's going on.' I said, 'Dude, you called me. What is it?' He said they wanted to extend me. I said, 'Yeah, right.' Next thing you know, we made the meme on Instagram and we had fun with it. I was excited." But Foster's signing meant Gilbert had to go. It was an interesting dynamic since Pouncey and Gilbert had been teammates at Florida and the center had vouched for Gilbert when the Steelers selected him in the second round of the 2011 draft. But Pouncey and Foster have been with each other since 2010. And the bond they have formed is a thick one. "That's like my brother, and any time I say he's like my brother, he says, 'No, you are my brother,'" Foster said of Pouncey. "I've been around him longer than anybody I've been around in my life, other than my siblings and parents growing up." -- Dale Lolley at Rooney Complex
• Much as the Steelers did when they asked Pouncey questions about Gilbert prior to selecting him in the 2011 draft, they did the same thing this year asking linebacker Ola Adeniyi about receiver Diontae Johnson. The two were teammates at Toledo and Adeniyi made the Steelers' roster last season as an undrafted rookie. As they went through the draft process this year, they began asking Adeniyi what he knew about Johnson. "I knew it was going to happen," Adeniyi told me of the Steelers taking Johnson with their first third-round pick. "If you watched my (Twitter feed), I reported it as they were about to pick. I knew it was going to be him. They asked me some questions, character-wise, about him. I told them he's a great guy. And they brought him in for a visit. I knew it was going to happen." Adeniyi and Johnson are close friends and that could make the transition easier for the rookie. "He's a great guy, a talented guy. This being his first year in the league, I'm going to do what I can to make it more comfortable for him," Adeniyi said. "Chances are, me and him are going to live together this year. That's my boy. We're going to make each other better." -- Lolley
• Speaking of Adeniyi, I asked him how he came to wear the No. 92, which carries some weight in Pittsburgh considering the team's top two all-time leaders in sacks -- James Harrison and Jason Gildon -- wore the number. "When I came in, I was given that number. At one point, I wanted to get it changed, but people convinced me to keep it. I'm just going to ride with it," said Adeniyi, who wore No. 9 at Toledo. "I wanted something with 9 in it. But I wanted to make a name for myself, not be in James Harrison's shadow. It's something good to be in, being compared to one of the greats. But I didn't want people saying, 'There goes little James Harrison.' I want them so say, 'There goes Ola.'" On the plus side, as I mentioned to Adeniyi, who has shown some solid pass-rushing skills in his short time with the Steelers, there are still quite a few fans who have No. 92 jerseys despite the way things ended for Harrison in Pittsburgh. "Most definitely," he said with a laugh. "I see that and I'm like, 'Hey.' Then I see the back and I'm like, "Aw, man.'" Maybe Adeniyi can do something about that in the not-too-distant future. Right now, he would be considered No. 4 on the team's outside linebacker depth chart, but if he has a solid training camp, he could work his way higher into the rotation. -- Lolley
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