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Phil Kessel trade destinations that don’t make sense

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Sportsnet tried to ponder up potential places for Phil, but many of them prove unpalatable for player and Pittsburgh.

Washington Capitals v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game Four

Phil Kessel take quakes have reached epic proportions and the calendar has only just flipped into June.

OK, let’s see what they’ve thought up and see if any of it makes sense around Kessel’s 23 team no trade list and also would be beneficial for the Penguins to send off a winger who just scored 92 points and helped their power play be historically great this season...

CALGARY FLAMES

How they make the deal: The Flames have roughly $12.5 million in cap space, according to CapFriendly, with their core locked up and a few depth free-agents to deal with. Fitting Kessel’s contract into the mix wouldn’t be easy, though a rising cap ceiling makes it more plausible, but if Calgary were to entice Rutherford into a trade, it would likely only come by dealing from a position of strength and shipping out a defenceman.

T.J. Brodie, packaged with a couple interesting prospects, would certainly help the Penguins’ cause, and would stylistically fit well with Pittsburgh. Moving out Brodie’s $4.65-million cap hit would also help fit Kessel in under the cap. On the ice, the Flames are stocked with more than a few options to fill in behind Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton, as prospects Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington and Adam Fox are all knocking on the door.

Why they make the deal: No rocket science here. The Flames have never housed a legitimate top-line winger to play with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, unless you count Jiri Hudler and his 76-point effort in 2014-15. Micheal Ferland has looked fine in the top-line role, but the Flames’ lack of bottom-six depth is well-documented.

So how about this for a new look? Kessel up top, opposite Gaudreau on Monahan’s right side; the Triple-M line continuing to do work on the second line; and Ferland helping boost the team’s struggling third unit. As we’ve seen in Pittsburgh, Kessel works best when he isn’t the main attraction, and while he’s a premier talent, Gaudreau’s high-flying presence would certainly ease the pressure on Kessel to be the No. 1 weapon.

Or, the Flames could keep the top line that’s worked — and one they like — and instead break up the 3M line by adding some scoring punch with Kessel and moving Michael Frolik to the third line. This could help spread out the scoring in the top-six, and perhaps make Calgary less of a one-line team on offence.

Interesting (and telling) there’s no mention of the Penguins in “why they make the deal”. Why Calgary would want to add Kessel should be obvious and an easy sell - he’s one of the most productive wingers in the game and his salary cap hit at $6.8 million is preferably to lower-producing players like Evander Kane (just signed for $7.0 million with San Jose) and whatever James van Riemsdyk will get on July 1.

But what’s in it for Pittsburgh? Brodie, a left-side defensemen (where the Pens already have Brian Dumoulin and Olli Maatta) and a “a couple interesting prospects”? Doesn’t really make sense.

Oh, and biggest hurdle of all is Kessel allowing this trade to happen. No chance Calgary is on the list of teams Pittsburgh could trade him to.

This might be a fit for Calgary, but barring a more interesting offer and some weird reason that Phil would want to go there, extreme longshot.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

How they make the deal: Columbus has about $13.4 million in cap space before it rises, so bringing in Kessel’s contract might require moving out a similar cap hit in return. But they have two options that could work. One is Cam Atkinson ($5.88 million per year), making the deal essentially a right winger-for-right winger-plus swap. He’s coming off a bit of a tumultuous season, starting slow before picking up by the year’s end, but still finished with a solid 24-goal effort in a down year.

For Columbus, Kessel serves as a sure upgrade over the solid Atkinson, while on the Penguins’ end, Atkinson serves as a slightly younger option, signed long-term (until 2025). Atkinson would have to waive a no-trade clause, though that may not be an issue given Pittsburgh’s championship track record. Another option: veteran Brandon Dubinsky ($5.85 million per year), play in a depth wing spot, or as a fill-in at centre on the third or fourth line when injuries hit, and bring some Patric Hornqvist-esque fire. Far from a one-for-one, the Blue Jackets would need to go prospect heavy to make it work.

TRADE PHIL KESSEL FOR BRANDON DUBINSKY WHAT IN THE HOLY HELL IS THIS?

That’s the dumbest thing I’ve seen outside of accidentally clicking on a Dejan column once.

Even the slightly smarter move for Atkinson still saddles the Pens with basically the same cap hit and trades Kessel (averaged 74 points in his 3 seasons in Pittsburgh) for Atkinson (who has averaged 54 points in the last 3 seasons). Step back no matter how you look at it.

Not really worth mentioning anything else. I’d rather buyout Kessel right now than take Dubinsky for him, it’s not 2012 anymore.

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS

How they make the deal: Perhaps the most absurd part of Vegas’ inaugural playoff run taking them all the way to the Stanley Cup Final is the fact that they have roughly $24.8 million in cap space to work with this summer. They have some key free agents to make decisions on — most notably RFA William Karlsson and UFAs James Neal and David Perron. If all three stay, there goes that cap space. But if GM George McPhee opts not to bring all three back, he could deal a package including centreman Erik Haula — coming off a career-best 29-goal, 55-point effort — to net a premier talent in Kessel.

Haula won’t be enough to pry Kessel out of Pittsburgh alone, but the team does have marquee prospects like Cody Glass and Nick Suzuki to work with if they so choose. On Pittsburgh’s end, adding a Haula gives them some versatility with the third-line centre role, potentially allowing the team to move Derick Brassard — who Pittsburgh felt could’ve benefitted from more minutes — up into a larger role on Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin‘s wing. Meanwhile, some top-end prospects help the club begin building up the next wave.

Vegas also has a plethora of defenceman leftover from the expansion draft they could use. That position is Pittsburgh’s biggest area of need and one where Vegas’ depth chart runs longest.

Why they make the deal: Why not? Vegas has done nothing but upend the status quo since coming into existence, and swinging a trade to land Phil Kessel would seem right on par with that. They’d also add a premier, reliably elite top-six talent to offset the potential of some of their 2017-18 stars regressing. As well, if Neal or Perron (or both) move on after this trip to the Final, Kessel comes in as a more than capable replacement.

So trade Kessel for a 3rd line center in Haula and a top prospect, then plan on playing Brassard out of position on the wing all season (in a contract year for him)? Boy, I’m sure that sounds great for all parties.

Vegas is better spent using this money to re-sign Neal and Karlsson rather than give up a top prospect for Phil, so this doesn’t really make a lot of sense from their end either.

NEW JERSEY DEVILS

How they make the deal: The Devils have roughly $19.9 million in cap space, but a fair number of free agents up front to consider. That said, given their push towards a youth movement, and the five entry-level deals they have on the books next year, fitting in Kessel’s cap hit wouldn’t be much of an issue. More of an issue is who goes back the other way.

Marcus Johansson, in a package deal, may be the most likely option — a reliable scorer Pittsburgh is well-acquainted with from his time in Washington. Like Brassard, Johansson could give Sullivan some flexibility in terms of line assignments, as he can suit up as the third-line centre or on the wing with Crosby and Malkin. He didn’t make much of an impression in his first season in Jersey, with injuries limiting the 27-year-old to just 29 games.

Trade Phil for a 3rd line player (only 1 year away from UFA) that only got in 29 games this season due to two concussions! Are they trying to make the Dubinsky suggestion look more palatable?

Ray Shero is pretty good at trades, I’d steer clear of this one. Also, Kessel’s NTC looms here. Not many people want to go to New Jersey if they have the choice. Kessel has that choice.

Another big nope on this one for everyone.

MINNESOTA WILD

How they make the deal: After a season that finished short of expectations and with a new GM in place, the Wild seem ripe for summer movement. They have plenty of trade candidates, too. In our list of 24 players who could get dealt this off-season, the Wild had four players appear. And in his latest 31 Thoughts column, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman noted “the sense from other teams was the Wild expected more from Jonas Brodin, Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter. We’ll see if the new regime feels differently.”

The Wild have only roughly $7.4 million in cap room before it rises, with two big RFAs to sign in Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba. The Penguins could find interest in someone like Brodin ($4.166 million) or Niederreiter ($5.25 million) who are signed for another three and four years, respectively.

Stop the presses, on the 5th and final attempt the article actually brings out a realistic destination that might be palatable to Kessel AND would have need for him AND has decent pieces to give back to Pittsburgh.

Niederreiter has a good reputation but did only score 32 points this past year. Kessel scored 34 goals alone, huge talent gap there.

Coyle PLUS Brodin though, now we’re talking. That’s a big ask from Minny and maybe too rich for their blood. But Pittsburgh ought not be shipping out Kessel without that type of return that adds a couple quality pieces. One-for-one isn’t going to be good talent-wise and the Pens goal is to try and win the Cup next year, they don’t get closer to that by dropping their talent level.

***

In all, this article shows how tough (and unfortunate) a Kessel trade would be. No doubt other teams would be trying to pawn off Cam Atkinson and Marcus Johannson level players for Kessel, who is way more skilled/productive and on a good cap hit for Pittsburgh. And, even if a good trade is worked out, if it’s not one of the 8 teams Kessel has chosen, it may not even go through anyways.

We were pretty tough on this piece, and why be critical if you don’t have an idea to counter it so on Monday we will give our trade idea/suggestion that makes more sense than the above if Pittsburgh and Kessel absolutely both wanted to get a trade done and move on.