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30 Thoughts' Friedman Talks Kessel Negotiations, Sutter Trade Chatter

Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman covers the machinery of the Phil Kessel trade and how Brandon Sutter drew interest from the Blackhawks.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The final 30 Thoughts column of the season ran Thursday. Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman wrapped up a number of items covering all teams in his expansive blog, including free agency, expansion and other offseason business.

A good portion of the column was dedicated to the Penguins, who made their waves with the trade acquisition of Phil Kessel on the first of the month.

A quick rundown of the Penguins analysis from Friedman, supercharged with bonus analysis from your old pals at Pensburgh,

15. With time to decompress from the Phil Kessel trade, it's clear that was one tricky negotiation. According to several sources, it looked dead on Sunday, about 72 hours before it happened. The Penguins were adamant Derrick Pouliot was not to be included. The Maple Leafs said no to keeping $2.5 million of Kessel's salary per season, then no to $2 million, before agreeing to $1.2 million. There was a time Toronto agreed to take Rob Scuderi's contract. That didn't happen, but there were multiple denials Chris Kunitz was ever discussed. The Maple Leafs would not comment. Penguins GM Jim Rutherford didn't want to address all this, simply saying, "We wanted Kessel because he was the best player for us."

It's hard to imagine a two-team trade involving as many moving parts as this deal did, and Friedman's take reveals even more of went on with the deal.

The rumor mill spun quickly at the NHL Draft in late June, where most of these big deals tend to get done (it was during the first day of the 2012 Draft that the Pens moved Jordan Staal in their last roster-shaking deal). The Kessel trade didn't happen then, but the opening of free agency presented another opportunity. The deal apparently needed all the time it took to come together.

Key among what didn't happen:

  • Pouliot was a non-starter. Huge win for the Pens.
  • Scuderi was at one point part of the deal, but eventually fell out. A big missed opportunity to save cap space.
  • Kunitz was apparently not a part of the talks. Even more reason to hope for a recovery this season.
It's telling that the deal seemed to be dead, according to Friedman, a few days before the start of free agency. The Maple Leafs, it has been widely reported, were not content to enter next season with the same roster core in place -- even if it meant moving their most valuable trade asset in a limited market. Pittsburgh was loud and proud in its pursuit of top-six talent on the wings.

Barring salary cap realities and everything else, this is a deal that seemed destined to get done, a pair of desperate teams on either end of the ledger. Strange circumstances for the biggest deal of the offseason.

16. At the end of the day, Kessel was traded because he was Toronto's most marketable player they were willing to deal. He could get the best return, including cap space. Nothing else excited them and bringing back the same group was unacceptable to Brendan Shanahan. There's no doubt this was unfulfilled potential for him and for the team. He's a lightning rod, a polarizing figure and is responsible for that. But the toughest thing the Maple Leafs lose is a talented player who (for the most part) could ignore the market noise. You need guys like that in Canada, who either embrace it (Subban) or tune it out (Sedins). That's hard to find. And I think there are some charities who will really miss him. He did a lot, very quietly.

Again, as badly as the Penguins wanted a winger, Toronto seemed even more desperate to rid themselves of Kessel.

From the Maple Leafs, word has always been that the team was looking to shed a significant part of its core. Could have been Dion Phaneuf. Could have been Tyler Bozak. It really seems like it was always going to be Kessel, though, whose departure was met with no shortage of character assassination by the Toronto media faithful.

Kessel and Toronto never seemed to be a fit. For the Leafs, it must have been hard living with a franchise .88 points-per-game player. For Kessel, it had to have been hard living within earshot of everything around him.

Pittsburgh is no kinder to its hockey stars than any other non-Canadian market. This is the city that saw its fans and media run out the league's fourth-leading all-time scorer at a time when he was the only thing dragging his franchise's carcass anywhere near the postseason. It spent the early parts of this summer attempting to do the same to the only Conn Smythe winner in franchise history not named Mario Lemieux.

Kessel didn't exactly land in hockey anonymity with his new team, but from the sounds of things, anything is an improvement over Toronto.

17. Rutherford on Brandon Sutter: "I'm not planning to move him. I like him. We have 10 guys who can play in our top nine — including Beau Bennett. But, we are up against the cap pretty good, so we'll have to do something." I'd heard Chicago likes Sutter, but with Artem Anisimov ensconced, there doesn't seem to be a fit.

Pittsburgh, somehow, needs to shed salary. Whether that's this summer or at some point during the season, there is no way for the current cap situation to remain tenable -- even if the fourth line is made entirely of Beau Bennett and two low-cost rookies.

Scuderi and Kunitz were always discussed in that regard. So, too, was Brandon Sutter, whose $3.3 million cap hit remains on the high side for a third-line center.

Sutter, for all that irks the advanced stats crowd, does three things well -- stays healthy, kills penalties and quietly pots more goals than you realize.

He's missed just three games in three seasons with Pittsburgh and topped 20 goals as a third-line player last season. If he can't bring a trade return worth more than just the subtracted cap space, it's worth wondering why he's even discussed as such a prominent trade piece in the first place.

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