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Phil Kessel’s partial no trade clause makes him very difficult for Pittsburgh Penguins to trade

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If the Pens wanted to trade Kessel, his 23 (23!!!) team no trade list makes it a tough challenge, and it’s even more so with the teams he picks to allow a trade to.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Back in 2015 when trade rumors were swirling around Phil Kessel, our Toronto Maple Leafs blog Pension Plan Puppets took a look at his revealed no-trade list as dug up by the venerable Bob McKenzie.

Due to his contract, Kessel can only be traded to eight teams of his choosing without his approval. As he can be a challenge and difficult person to deal with, Kessel was reportedly unwilling to bend on his list and consider being traded to other markets back in 2015, though it’s important to note it remains unknown if he would have the same stance now. (Though it’s a good guess that “Kessel” and “cooperative when he doesn’t have to be” aren’t usually two things that go together).

PPP included the following rational as to how the list of teams (Pittsburgh, Montreal, Philadelphia, NY Rangers, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles Minnesota) was setup.

One other thing from Bob McKenzie: “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.

The last part is key. Kessel’s representatives tried to make it so he couldn’t be traded. It failed, obviously, since Toronto was able to trade him to Pittsburgh anyway. But Pittsburgh was the only suitor, and Toronto had to be willing to retain 15 percent of Kessel’s contract (which means a $1.2 million salary cap penalty from 2015-22), and they were willing to take on Nick Spaling and his $2.2 million cap hit to make the money work.

Perhaps worse than the financial obligations to make the deal work, Toronto was also unable to get either of the Penguins’ best young players at the time (Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot) and had to settle for accepting one future first round pick — which was lottery protected at that — as well as prospect Kasperi Kapanen (a former first round pick, to be fair).

Kessel’s agents couldn’t foresee the Leafs willing to take on such financial penalties and a low value return to move their six-season-in-a-row leading scorer, but yet, they were that desperate to bottom out and start over their rebuild.

With the same motivation in mind, the player has to be in a place he’s prepared to play if necessary, but also places that don’t have the salary cap space to acquire him. The latter can be tougher, as Toronto found out, but here’s our presented list of a “guesstimate” for what Kessel’s 2019 no trade clause could look like.

Philadelphia, Toronto, NY Rangers, Boston, Chicago, LA Kings, Washington, Minnesota

The logic being —

No chance

Toronto: After running him out of town, the Leafs aren’t going to take Phil back. Kyle Dubas is a new GM but with Team President Brendan Shanahan and all the other “hockey men” still in the organization it’s just never going to happen. That’s even before getting to the fact that raises to players like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander make adding the salary an impossibility for where Toronto is right now, so both the head and the heart are against any sort of reunion for a situation that ended so messily.

Boston: Similar to Toronto, it’s “been there, done that” for Kessel and the Bruins’ organization, being as Kessel left the Boston organization in 2009 on the heels of a contract negotiation turned sour. Curmudgeon owner Jeremy Jacobs probably isn’t likely to forget or look past that. The B’s also have to re-sign excellent young defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo this summer, and capfriendly only has them at $10.8 million under the upper limit at this point. Adding Kessel’s salary is a non-starter even ignoring the history that they share, which is a killer anyway.

Philadelphia: The Pens and Flyers can’t work together well enough to negotiate in good faith on a Mark Streit deal as a rental, there’s no way in the world they’re going to get together on a massive trade like Kessel in this day and age. The days of a Recchi for Tocchet type of trade between the commonwealth’s teams are way in the rear view mirror, as the competitive nature of the rivalry has spilled over to the business side of the equation now too. In the last 15 years PIT/PHI has made one trade (a minor one in 2010 where the rights to Dan Hamhuis were exchanged for a third round pick).

Washington: The Capitals already have high-paid right wings that they like a lot in T.J. Oshie and Tom Wilson, and Washington is capped out and may have to trade away a high salary cap hit like Matt Niskanen this summer to re-sign players like Jakub Vrana in line for a raise.

And, much like Philly, it would be very shocking for the Pens and Caps to work together on a significant deal when they count on seeing each other every year in the playoffs. The last thing that either of these teams would be interested in is helping the other out one bit.

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Just like that, what technically is an eight team “no trade clause” jumps down in practical terms to a four team NTC very, very quickly. That’s less leverage for the Pens in any potential situation that finds them looking to scope the market on Phil.

Tomorrow we’ll dig into the four remaining possibilities on this list (Los Angeles, Chicago, Minnesota, and NY Rangers) to determine the viability of their interest level in Phil, as well as what reasonable trade price they would be considering if they were to be in on this, plus the logic from the Pens’ side as to if it makes sense.

What this foundation should really be driving home is that much like in 2015, due to Phil Kessel’s contract, he’s likely to only have one potential suitor which will mean a depressed trading price to the value of the player on the ice. The end result is already in focus that if the Penguins do intend to try and keep their championship window open, a trade of Kessel doesn’t help given the restrictions that are in place.