It's not news that Phil Kessel is likely to be moved this offseason.
How does that happen, though?
Kessel has a modified no-trade clause which allows him to create a list of eight teams to which he would accept a trade. Not surprisingly, he's reportedly seeking a contender.
In addition to being approved by Kessel, any potential trading partner must be able to accommodate Kessel's $6.8 million cap hit, and they'd have to have coveted assets that would make the deal worthwhile on the Penguins' end.
So, which teams are possible landing spots for Kessel this summer? Let's take a look:
If Kessel had his pick of teams, the Coyotes would likely be at the top of his list.
The Coyotes were just four points out of a playoff spot this season, and adding a consistent point-producer like Kessel could at least get the Coyotes back to the postseason. They're not a serious contender yet, but they're trending upward.
A trade to the Coyotes would reunite Kessel with Rick Tocchet, with whom Kessel had a good relationship when Tocchet was in Pittsburgh. Arizona is also one of the smaller hockey markets in the league. Kessel would surely face less pressure and less media attention. He'd be happy in Arizona.
The Coyotes, however, don't have many assets that they could part with that would make the trade worth it on the Penguins' end. Their 213 goals were the fifth-fewest in the league this season. They don't have a high-end goal-scoring winger on their roster who could be the Penguins' return in a one-for-one deal.
If draft picks are part of the return, the Coyotes have eight: one in the first round (14th overall), one in the second round, two in the third round, one in the fourth round, two in the sixth round (including the Penguins' own) and one in the seventh round.
The biggest asset the Penguins would get out of a trade with the Coyotes would be shedding salary.
In many ways, the Wild appeared to be a great place for Kessel to end up. It's close to his home state of Wisconsin. He played college hockey in Minnesota. He's close with Ryan Suter.
The Wild are not on Kessel's list of approved teams, however. He's looking to play for a contender, and the Wild missed the playoffs this season by seven points.
According to Bob McKenzie, the Wild still shouldn't be counted out as a possible destination.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point, (a trade) gets done with Minnesota,” McKenzie said on a recent episode of his podcast. “Kessel’s ‘no’ to Pittsburgh wasn’t really a hard, 100 percent 'no' so much as it was, ‘Nah, I don’t really want to go there, maybe you could check with some other teams.’”
Rutherford is certainly taking calls on Kessel from other teams around the league. If it starts to look like the Penguins won't be able to work out a deal with one of the eight teams on Kessel's list, perhaps Kessel will change his mind on the Wild, if the only alternative would be staying in Pittsburgh.
“I think Phil is trying to push the Penguins to talk to other teams that he knows have interest in him that he would be more interested in going to than Minnesota," McKenzie later said in his podcast. "I get the sense that Pittsburgh is having none of that. I think the latest in Pittsburgh would be that if we can’t get the Kessel-for-Zucker deal done then, fine, we’ll keep Phil and he’ll be part of our team. Knowing that, obviously, it’s not the most favorable situation when you’re a player like Phil Kessel knowing that the Penguins are trying to move on from you. We’ll see how that soap opera plays out.”
The Predators check off some necessary boxes that would be required in a Kessel trade.
Do they have the cap space? Yes. They currently have about $7 million in projected cap space, and that's still counting P.K. Subban (and his $9 million cap hit), who could be moved this summer.
Are they a contender? Yes. Despite being eliminated in the second-round this season, their 100 points led the Central Division in the regular season. They're still one of the West's top teams. The closest the Predators have come to winning a Stanley Cup was when they lost to the Penguins in 2017. Kessel was a huge part of that Cup run (and the year before). That playoff Phil could really help the Predators make another postseason run.
Kessel likely wouldn't mind being reunited with Nick Bonino, his former "HBK" linemate.
The Penguins would be looking to shed salary here. So, no, Subban would not be in play. The Penguins already have nearly $29 million tied up in the defense, and some of that will also be shed this summer. One intriguing player who could be part of a return is forward Craig Smith. He can play wing, and he can produce. He recorded 21 goals and 17 assists in 76 games this season. In 2017-18, he scored 25 goals and 26 assists in 79 games. He's reliable defensively, which is a necessity on Evgeni Malkin's line.
The Panthers already have stars at forward in Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, and Evgenii Dadonov, but things are pretty bleak after that. They're definitely a team that could use Kessel's offensive production.
If the Penguins are looking to shed salary in the deal and pick up a draft pick or two in return, the Panthers have a fair number of picks -- a first-round pick, the second-round pick originally belonging to the Penguins, the third-round pick originally belonging to the Oilers, three fourth-round picks (including the one originally belonging to the Penguins), and one in each of the final three rounds.
If the Penguins are seeking a one-for-one deal with Kessel, to perhaps find a suitable winger for Malkin, then the Panthers don't exactly have anyone who could fill that role who they'd be willing to part with.
The Panthers also missed the playoffs by 12 points this season. If Kessel is set on playing for a contender, the Panthers aren't quite there yet.
The Avalanche are a team trending upward. They returned to the playoffs this season in a wild card spot and eliminated the top-seeded Flames in the first round. They'll be contenders for years to come, led by young stars like Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon. That makes them an attractive team to play for, and Kessel could be a complement to some of the Avalanche's stars.
The Avalanche have the cap space to accommodate Kessel's contract, and still have ample room remaining. Their stars have very team-friendly deals. Kessel's $6.8 million cap hit would be the highest on the team.
The Avalanche have eight draft picks this year: two in the first round (fourth and 16th overall), one in the second round, two in the third round, and one in each of the fifth, sixth, and seventh rounds.
No, the Golden Knights don't make the list because of anything having to do with gambling. It probably wouldn't dampen any potential interest from Kessel, though.
The Golden Knights showed interest in Kessel leading up to February's trade deadline, and, according to Bob McKenzie, Kessel would be happy with a trade to the Golden Knights.
Despite past interest, this one is now tricky. Since then, the Golden Knights acquired Mark Stone and signed him to a pricey, long-term extension, and they signed Max Pacioretty to another high-salary extension. The Golden Knights now have a lot of money tied up at forward and are projected to have very little cap space with which to work. They would have to free up cap space in a corresponding move or send a player with a similar cap hit to the Penguins, which wouldn't be ideal if the Penguins are attempting to shed any salary.
The Canadiens are in a good spot financially to acquire Kessel. They have 14 forwards, seven defensemen, and two goaltenders under contract at the NHL level and are still projected to have nearly $12 million in cap space. That's enough cap room to fit Kessel's contract, and some forwards who could be expendable in a return.
The Canadiens finished just two points out of a wild card spot, which could make them an acceptable location for Kessel. Kessel has defensive weaknesses, but the Canadiens could overlook that, given that their problems are more offense-based.
If Kessel's looking for a city where he would get less media attention, however, a Canadian market isn't going to be his best bet.
If Kessel truly does not want to go anywhere, he's not going anywhere. He could easily use his limited no-trade clause to make a trade nearly impossible if that's what he wants.
It wouldn't be difficult for Kessel to stack his approved list of eight teams with teams to which he knows he wouldn't be dealt. If he adds the Maple Leafs, some Metropolitan Division rivals, and some cash-strapped teams around the league like the Lightning to his list, the Penguins really don't have any moves to make.
Kessel could also load his list with some of those no-go teams, as well as one team to which he'd actually accept a trade, like the Coyotes. And even if Kessel does add a team or two to his list he genuinely would like to play for, that doesn't mean the Penguins could necessarily work out a deal with that team that would bring a satisfactory return.
Either way, there's still a slight chance Kessel is a Penguin next season.
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