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NHL Trade Rumors: Does Phil Kessel actually want to go to Arizona?

More reporting that Phil is going to stand his contractual ground

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

New day, new Phil Kessel drama. And today it’s Elliotte Friedman from Sportsnet weighing in with his 31 Thoughts column and it sheds new light and perspective on the latest in Pittsburgh’s effort to trade him.

Here’s my sense of what’s going on with Phil Kessel: he vetoed a trade to Minnesota and the story is out because both teams are unhappy. He cannot be traded to the Wild without specific approval, and, if you know Kessel, you know he will stand up for his rights no matter what anyone else thinks. The fact it got out may make it even harder to complete, because he’ll push back against pressure.

Woo, this is a spicy meatball. The earlier, best reports detailing the potential Kessel-to-Minnesota trade have come from a couple of Athletic writers (namely Josh Yohe, Michael Russo and Pierre Lebrun). Their perspective was the trade was stalled due to Kessel not approving, but still open-ended as a possibility. As Lebrun put it, “Kessel at the moment is not leaning toward waiving his NTC to go to Minnesota, but that doesn’t mean it ultimately couldn’t happen eventually”.

This report from Friedman paints a bit of a more conclusive picture with Kessel flat out vetoing a move to the Wild, and possibly preparing to dig in his heels and not be willing to approve any trade presented to him to any location that’s among the 23 teams that he can block a trade to.

I think we all knew this was a possibility that Kessel would stick to his guns and make it difficult. That would mean if the Penguins want to move on from Kessel, they would only have the eight teams that he can’t block a trade to work with. That is not a good development for the Pens. If Kessel would have accepted a deal to MIN, the Pens would have gotten Jason Zucker (a younger, cheaper top-6 winger with 40-60 point potential) AND shed a bad player, bad contract combo in Jack Johnson. That might not be perfect value for an 80-90 point producer like Kessel (especially since Pittsburgh would have to take on the $4 million contract of an under-performing Victor Rask), but it at least does accomplish some positives.

Now if their Kessel trade market is chopped to eight teams, can they accomplish either of those two things? We’ll see, but it would seem likely the quality of asset coming back now probably drops. And considering Zucker was already a step-back in talent from Kessel, it makes building a talented team for 2019-20 all the more difficult.

I’d heard things went badly last season between him and the organization, and this confirms it. He knows he will be traded because there’s no benefit to staying, but he’s going to make sure it is on his terms if the Penguins want to send him anywhere other than his eight-team list. My guess is Arizona would be high on his choice of destinations, but I don’t see an easy fit. The Penguins want scoring in return and the Coyotes finished 28th in goals-for. Memorial Day weekend comes at a perfect time for everyone to take a deep breath, drink some strawberry daiquiris, then search for a solution.

I don’t think it’s intentional but a lot of this tone can be taken like Kessel is pulling a power play or intentionally thwarting the Pens, but it’s certainly no secret to the team which teams he can and can’t be traded to. It’s in Kessel’s contract that he doesn’t have to allow trades to 23 teams. If he’s intent on doing so, that is a business decision and his right.

This is also not the first time Friedman has pushed the idea that Phil Kessel wants to go to the Coyotes. We’ll see if that plays out, I have severe doubts and reservations from the player perspective that Arizona is a good place for a player like Kessel to be, but hey, maybe he’s ready to be put out to pasture and not bothered anymore to truly play out his NHL days without much fuss in a market with nice weather. That would be his contractual right, but I have doubts.

As Friedman also points out, a AZ-PIT trade here isn’t that good of a match. Arizona doesn’t have a lot to offer back for Kessel that they would part with. Best case for the Pens, maybe the ‘Yotes would consider moving Christian Dvorak, a 23-year old center whose $4.5 million contract extension kicks in next season. Dvorak might be excess with 2018-first round pick Barrett Hayton believed to be making a run for an NHL roster spot in the near future.

Salary-wise, the numbers would about work for Arizona, as Kessel’s real salary is $7.0m, $6.0m and $6.0m in the last three years of his contract, and Toronto is carrying the expenditure of 15% of that. So while money is always a consideration for a small market team, really it wouldn’t be too difficult for Arizona to balance things out and afford Kessel if they so wanted.

But Dvorak is a center and has only three years of NHL experience (including being injured most of 2018-19) and has a career-high of 37 points. Is that really enough scoring to return from Kessel?

If Arizona knows they are the Pens’ best or only option, they don’t have a lot of reason to include more assets in this deal to balance it out. Pittsburgh sure felt the same way when they refused Toronto’s requests to have top young players at the time from 2012 first round picks Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot not being included in the 2015 trade that sent Kessel to Pittsburgh.

The saga and drama will likely continue. We’ll see if over the weekend the Pens take it to reset and approach their problem from a new angle. If Friedman’s reporting is true, Kessel is definitely not going to make this easy on them if they still want to go through with trading him. Which side will blink first? Is Arizona really his preferred destination? Can they work something out? Those are the latest questions in the Phil saga that has definitely drummed up more questions than answers so far.