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If the Penguins HAD to trade Phil Kessel, here’s what we’d want to see

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Suppose the trade rumors are true and Pittsburgh is going to move Phil Kessel. Would suck, but what would a good trade be?

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It’s fair to say that the Pittsburgh Penguins coaching staff, namely Mike Sullivan, isn’t thrilled with Phil Kessel. The reports from the media all say as much, and it makes sense. Kessel has an unusual personality for a world-class hockey player. That isn’t necessarily an endorsement or indictment, simply a statement of fact that he is different, acts different and that has created drama, tension and waves throughout his career.

And with so many bad ideas floating around, we can’t help but put a toe in the water now. If the Penguins absolutely had to/wanted to trade Kessel this summer, here’s some hopefully realistic solutions to the problem.

Here’s the rationale:

  • Sidney Crosby turns 31 this summer, Evgeni Malkin 32. Kris Letang is 30. The Pens championship window probably has about 2-4 more years of being serious, top-tier contenders before the core ages out. Any trade giving up Kessel has to have an eye on the RIGHT NOW to help maximize a championship.
  • Kessel is on the books for $6.8 million for four more seasons.
  • Kessel is allowed to block trades to all but 8 teams. This list isn’t currently known and could change every year. In 2015 (when Toronto traded him to Pittsburgh) the list was known: Montreal, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, NY Rangers, Boston, Chicago, LA Kings, Minnesota. These teams were picked, per Bob McKenzie, as places Kessel would play if he had to. But also places with little cap room and a low chance of actually pulling off a trade, as well as places he didn’t think Toronto would want to trade him (BOS, MTL).
  • Using that same logic, we will revise this list assume/project that the current teams Kessel could be traded to are: Montreal, Philadelphia, Toronto, NY Rangers, Boston, Chicago, LA Kings, Washington.
  • Pretty simple, same teams except TOR replaces PIT on his list, and he gets protected from MIN by adding WSH.

What is left for a realistic trade for Kessel this summer is...

Scratch them off immediately:

Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins

Nope, there’s no chance in hell there’s going to be a reunion with one of his old teams. In Toronto, Brendan Shanahan wanted Phil out for a reason and isn’t going to re-open that pandora’s box. Boston is capped-out already having five forwards making $6 million+ next season as it is. These just aren’t realistic fits, so perfect way for Phil to make his NTC all the more effective by including these two teams that wouldn’t take him back anyways.

Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals

There’s no way in the world the Pens are sending Phil to one of their arch-rivals. The Pens and Flyers couldn’t even work together to make a trade for a rental deal in the form of Mark Streit, getting them to agree on a deal for Kessel would be infinitely tougher. The Capitals are going to have to scrape up the salary cap space for John Carlson, Kessel would be a luxury they couldn’t afford even if they wanted to, which they probably don’t even have interest anyways.

New York Rangers

Can probably lump them in with the two division teams above, but with the notation they’re “rebuilding” so Kessel makes no sense for them at this point of their team’s cycle. Plus, rumor has they might get their fill of an offensive-minded moody winger in free agent Ilya Kovalchuk, giving even less motivation for them to want to add Kessel for a price when they can just sign a similar player for the cost of a contract.

True trade options

So now we’re left with projecting just three places in the whole league that the Pens could actually trade Kessel, barring an agreement from him to waive his NTC.

Chicago Blackhawks

It’s tough to see much actually developing here. From Pittsburgh’s perspective, Brandon Saad ($6m cap hit) would be the trade that makes sense. The problem is, Chicago’s not making that trade- it makes them older, less physical and it’s well-known they covet what Saad brings to the table.

Other than that, there’s not much Chicago has that they would give up that looks appealing. Artem Anisimov ($4.55m for three more years) and another young forward? That doesn’t get the Pens closer to a Cup. And adding one puzzle piece worth $6.8 million to the salary cap is the absolute last thing the ‘Hawks should be doing right now. They need three good players for $2 million, not one great player for almost $7.

So it’s tough to see a good trade fit match for Pittsburgh/Kessel/Chicago and I don’t have even a proposal to offer up. It would be Saad but it’s very doubtful the Blackhawks would have any interest whatsoever.

Los Angeles Kings

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Los Angeles Kings Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

LA has Rob Blake now as GM who hasn’t done that much in the way of huge moves. His one major trade was to acquire Dion Phaneuf for Marian Gaborik, basically realigning the chairs on the deck of the good ship Bad Contract.

One would think LA would like to shed Dustin Brown ($5.8m for four more seasons) but that would be a dreadful talent exchange for Pittsburgh.

Instead, we’ll counter with a different offer. Tyler Toffoli scored 107 points in his first two full NHL seasons but is coming off seasons of just 34 and 47 points the last two years. He’s 26 and has two more years left on his contract for $4.6m.

The Pens get a little cap flexibility and get a young player that’s a proven top-6 forward. The Kings get a more explosive offensive player and a boost for their middle-of-the-road power play. No guarantee they would go for this trade, but given that it’s a fairly inexperienced manager at the other end, one could see them having interest in wanting to shake up their team a bit and adding a marquee offensive player.

The players look fairly similar on their advanced metrics as well (click to enlarge), with Toffoli perhaps a bit more impressive looking on a bar-chart due to better Corsi numbers. Stll, in points and goals and primary assists Kessel well out-classes him, and those are probably the toughest and most important stats here.

Ideal offer: Kessel for Tyler Toffoli

Montreal Canadiens

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Montreal Canadiens Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Now the major assumption here is Montreal remaining on Kessel’s NTC list. Perhaps the only reason they were on it in 2015 was because of the rivalry with Toronto. Perhaps he blocks this move now.

If not, to me this is the best place to trade Kessel if Pittsburgh was hell-bent on moving him this summer. Because Montreal has the urge to make a splashy trade, needs a roster overhaul, has a GM with a known itchy trigger-finger on trades and it’s known that their capitain Max Pacioretty may be on the move.

Pacioretty has one year left on a bargain of a $4.5 million cap hit. He turns 30 in November, so there isn’t a huge age difference with Kessel (31 in October) for either team.

It’s also ideal for Pittsburgh because Pacioretty is a natural LW and the Pens LW depth chart (Guentzel-Hagelin-Sheary) is probably the weakest group on the team at the moment and the RW list (Kessel-Hornqvist-Rust-Sprong) is one of the deepest.

Pacioretty had a rough season in 2017-18 with only 17 goals and 37 points (he had averaged 35 goals and 65 points the past four seasons prior) but all his advanced metrics indicate he is one of the best wingers in the game, just one in a bad situation last year.

It still kind of sucks for the Pens, Kessel’s averaged 73 points in his three seasons, Pacioretty’s career HIGH is 67 so it will be a slight step-back in terms of pure skill and playmaking ability. But Patches’ abilities shooting the puck are really, really good and if you had to trade Phil this summer, this would be the one to try and make.

Ideal offer: Kessel for Max Pacioretty