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Report: Penguins recently “tested the market” on trading Phil Kessel

Say it ain’t so!

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Per Elliotte Friedman’s 31 thoughts, Phil Kessel trade rumors are back en vogue.

According to multiple sources, Pittsburgh “tested the market” on Phil Kessel. This one is tricky, because the Penguins appear to have decided to hold off on anything involving him for the time being, but that doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t be revisited. Three weeks ago, the Penguins were last in the Eastern Conference. Tuesday’s win over Colorado put them within two points of the playoffs, and who is betting against them? GM Jim Rutherford’s been searching for ways to upgrade the roster. He’s made two moves — Carl Hagelin to Los Angeles for Tanner Pearson, Daniel Sprong to Anaheim for Marcus Pettersson — but is eyeing more. The Penguins don’t have a ton to trade without seriously altering the team. Kessel has some control of the process with partial no-trade protection. Toronto still pays $1.2 million of his $8-million salary. The winger has 10 goals and 29 points in 26 games, so the production is still there. We’ll see where it goes.

The one thing everyone always seems to forget about Phil (from CapFriendly):

Kessel can only be traded to 8 teams without his permission. The last time he got traded in the summer of 2015, he was openly obstructing Toronto’s efforts to deal him by putting teams like Pittsburgh on his list, who his agent thought wouldn’t have the salary space to acquire an $8.0 million player. Kessel also made it clear he would not waive his clause to be traded to a team not on his list.

We all know Kessel can be prickly and set in his ways, so any expectation he just would be accepting of a trade to pretty much anywhere is not realistic.

All of this means trade value takes a big, big hit. There’s no supply for Kessel for 75% of the league, so the demand of the teams that could have him isn’t there, there’s no one else to bid on. And no doubt some (or most) the teams on Kessel’s list are salary cap limit franchises that couldn’t afford to pay a big winger a lot of money even if they wanted him.

On the ice, Kessel has been slumping the past couple of weeks - he’s got no goals in his last seven games and only 3 in the last 16 contests. However he still does have 29 points in 26 games on the season, which is obviously something to be happy with.

If the Penguins really wanted to shake up their team, a Kessel trade does make some sense as he’s probably the most likely piece to shuffle out among the Pens’ core that’s signed long-term and not going anywhere anytime soon (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Kessel and Patric Hornqvist).

However, given the very restrictive 23-team no trade clause, and the fact Kessel has 29 points in 26 games, it seems almost impossible to imagine a realistic scenario where Pittsburgh can trade Phil Kessel and not seriously downgrade the talent level of their team.

There’s no incentive for anyone to pay a high trade price for Kessel, just as the Pens themselves basically only gave two assets of value (Kasperi Kapanen and a lottery-protected 1st round pick) to get Kessel. Such a return isn’t going to improve the Pens in the short-term, so there’s no way to envision him traded.

That multiple sources show Kessel’s name is getting tossed around - just to see what the market is - that says a lot. And it should be a message to the rest of the team that pretty much any one of them could be the next one to be traded if the Pens don’t start winning a lot here in the near future.

But for many reasons, most of which include trade realities, it shouldn’t be Kessel going out the door if Pittsburgh intends to remain in “contender mode” chasing immediate glory.