It’s the Penguins offseason, which means a variety of media members floating numerous theories, suggestions, and best of all, predictions that they’ll be trading star players.
Usually it’s Evgeni Malkin or Kris Letang. Now it’s starting to be Phil Kessel. Hell, some idiot columnist will have to take to his grave the fact he said “don’t be surprised if the Pens trade Phil Kessel” in summer 2017. If that was FOLLOWING winning the Cup two times in two years, surely the vultures will be circling now that the Pens have lost.
It’s just a thought floated by the Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey, who isn’t a hot take artist by any means, and perhaps it’s fine in the summer to think of all angles. But this train of thought seems to be growing, so let’s blow this one out of the water. Says Mackey (in a good article you should read):
Trading one of the team’s most well-liked players probably won’t go over well with fans or those inside the dressing room, and it may seem borderline insane on the surface. But an argument could be made that it makes a ton of sense from a business perspective.
Kessel is coming off a career-best offensive year with 92 points. The 34 goals he scored represented the most for Kessel since 2013-14, and he led the league in power-play points with 42. His stock has probably never been higher as a Penguin.
Kessel will also be 31 years old at the start of the 2018-19 season. He has four more years on a contract that pays him $8 million ($6.8 counting against the Penguins’ salary cap).
If ever there was a time to make a move and get out from under that contract — which the Penguins didn’t negotiate — it could be now. But it’s also not hard to see the Penguins standing pat given Kessel’s talents and his value to the team.
OK, first things first — the one item that anyone who shares a “what if they think about trading Kessel” thought ALWAYS forgets, dismisses, or doesn’t seem to understand is Kessel’s no-trade clause. Which is ironic, since his no-trade clause is the biggest reason he ended up in Pittsburgh in the first place.
It’s a doozy. Per CapFriendly, Kessel submits an eight-team list of places he can be traded to. When Toronto was itching to trade him in summer 2015, Kessel was unwilling to help. One of the reasons Pittsburgh was on Kessel’s NTC list is that they were a high-salary team that seemed unlikely to clear enough cap space to acquire Kessel and his $8 million yearly salary.
As TSN’s Bob McKenzie said back in 2015 just before the trade to Pittsburgh:
“I think the list was ostensibly put together probably to places that: A) He would be prepared to play if he had to, and B) places that are salary capped out... I think that the list - for the most part - was designed to make his modified no-trade as close to a full no-trade as possible.
They found a way to make it work in 2015, but the point is Kessel isn’t likely to help the Penguins trade him anywhere. And many of the teams on his list are going to be big markets who probably aren’t looking to add a $6.8 million salary winger, as well as places the Penguins probably wouldn’t want to trade a 92-point right winger to (think: Philly, Washington, New York Rangers, Toronto, Chicago, Boston, Tampa).
Because of this no-trade clause, the Penguins would only have eight choices to trade him to, many of whom wouldn’t have interest or cap space. As Toronto found out, when you have limited spots to trade a player, the bidding is significantly reduced. So the price is reduced. Toronto basically only got (of value) 2014 first-round pick Kasperi Kapanen and a future 2016 first round pick in exchange for Kessel, six times their leading scorer.
It would be unlikely the Penguins would get even that much for an offensive player three years past prime in a limited trade market. And like the Maple Leafs having to take on Nick Spaling and retain salary, Pittsburgh would likely have to swallow poison pills of adding a player on a bloated contract and/or retain some of Kessel’s salary just to make him trade-able.
Which is a long way of saying that for better or worse the Penguins are pretty much tied to Phil Kessel. It makes really no sense to consider trading him, because trading him will make the team much worse next season. As Mackey pointed out, Kessel scored 34 goals and a career-high 92 points last season. You’re not going to trade him with a very tight NTC and improve. And it’s counter-intuitive for a team like the Penguins to make a transaction that makes them worse in the immediate future.
This one should be put to rest. Phil Kessel is about the absolute last player that Pittsburgh should consider trading, let alone actually do go through with it if their goal is to attempt to try and win the Stanley Cup in 2019. Yes, they’ll need him to play better in the playoffs next season. But the answer isn’t always to hit the eject button via a trade; it would be a disastrous move for a team that needs more skill wingers and not less.