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TSN’s Bob McKenzie on Phil Kessel: “He’s getting traded, just a matter of where and when.”

Will Phil be stubborn or relent this off-season as the Penguins look to trade him?

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Florida Panthers Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

TSN’s Bob McKenzie gave his take on the ongoing Pittsburgh Penguins’ rumors surrounding star winger Phil Kessel. You can hear it here:

McKenzie was very blunt to open his commentary and analysis on Phil Kessel.

“He’s getting traded, just a matter of where and when. [But] he’s not getting traded if there’s not a good deal on the table, I don’t want to [get ahead of] myself...The Kessel deal is going to be done as soon as Jim Rutherford thinks he gets fair value on it, and he already thought by all accounts that he got fair value on a potential deal with the Minnesota Wild where Jason Zucker would come over from Minnesota and there might potentially be an exchange of bad contracts [with Jack Johnson and Victor Rask]”.

“But whatever the details may be or may not be in terms of the bodies flying back and forth, it seems pretty clear that Pittsburgh had a deal they thought was pretty amenable and that Phil Kessel was asked if he’d be interested in signing off on going to the Minnesota Wild.”

McKenzie shifted towards the no trade clause.

“He’s got a no trade clause, there’s only eight teams in the league he can be traded to without his seeking his permission. Obviously Minnesota is not one of those eight teams that he can be traded to, so they had to ask Kessel his permission to trade him there. And Kessel, by all accounts thought about it for a bit and said no. Not right now anyways.”

But that denial isn’t going to stop the process of the Pens trying to trade Kessel.

“Our understanding is maybe some of the teams that are on his eight team list are calling because [the trade talk] has become that much more public. Maybe there are other the teams that aren’t on the list are calling Jim Rutherford and maybe he’ll get right offer from one of them and he’ll go back to Kessel and say ‘well what about THIS team?’ Or ‘what about THAT team’? Or maybe they do get one of the eight [that he can’t block].”

The above supports the theory that the exact details of this trade have been leaked in an effort to set the market and perhaps give motivation to any other bidders to come out with a stronger offer. And also plants the seed that Pittsburgh would like to dump bad contract/bad player combo of Johnson along with Kessel.

Unlike in 2015 when McKenzie did know Kessel’s no trade list, this time around he isn’t certain but, being as he’s Bob McKenzie he’s got a pretty smart sounding theory.

“I don’t know what the eight teams are for Phil Kessel that he can be traded to, but I do know most players and agents in the NHL, when you’ve got a very small window like that you fill it up with potential teams you know you’re not getting traded to. So you [attempt] to create a virtual no trade clause.”

“If you’re [a player] in Pittsburgh, and you’ve got to submit a list you say, ‘OK, I’m gonna put Philadelphia on the list since I don’t think there’s any way that Pittsburgh is going to trade with Philadelphia. I’m gonna put Boston on the list, because I’ve played for the Bruins before and I don’t think they’re bringing me back. I’m gonna put Toronto on the list, ‘cuz I don’t think Toronto’s bringing me back.’ So there’s three teams that I’m pretty sure there’s not a chance in the world [of getting traded to]”

McKenzie also mentioned the Tampa Bay Lightning as another possible team on the list, as well as other cap-strapped teams.

Based on all of that, here’s a Pensburgh projection of what a Kessel eight team no trade list could look like (though obviously this is unconfirmed). Kessel and his reps can change this every year, so there can be some fluctuation as teams’ chances or willingness to want Kessel increases or declines.

  • #1: Toronto (won’t want Kessel)
  • #2: Boston (won’t want Kessel)
  • #3: Philadelphia (big rivals don’t make major trades in cap world)
  • #4: Washington (big rivals don’t make major trades in cap world)
  • #5: New York Rangers (big rivals don’t make major trades in cap world)
  • #6: Tampa Bay (cap issues)
  • #7: Vegas (just re-signed Mark Stone and recently signed Max Pacioretty, they are near the cap and won’t look to add a high-priced winger)
  • #8: Chicago (cap strapped enough not to want an expensive 32-year old piece)

It’s possible this might miss a team or two, but using logic it would make sense if this is roughly Kessel’s list. That doesn’t give Rutherford a ton to work with.

McKenzie finished with an angle to consider from the player’s perspective too.

“At the end of the day though, Phil Kessel’s going to recognize that the Penguins want to move on. He’s got to be a little bit tuned to that and realize do you really want to make stay in a place where they don’t want you?”

Through his contract it looks like Kessel has staved off the Pens’ first serious chance to trade him to a pretty reasonable landing spot of Minnesota. Will Phil stubbornly abide by the exact letter of his NTC and force Rutherford’s hand to operate within those constraints?

Or will he relent a bit and opt to start a new and approve a new location?

As of right now, it’s the biggest and most pressing question of the Pens’ 2019 off-season, and one bound to unfold in the following days and weeks up to the NHL draft.