After checking out yesterday how Phil Kessel’s contract makes him basically tradeable to only four options (barring his approval to waive his clause) and speculating what they could be based on his 2015 list, we’ll shift gears today. Kessel’s contract before has been designed by his agents to make him as untradeable as possible, and adding teams that either wouldn’t want him, wouldn’t have space for him, or rivals that don’t work well with Pittsburgh might leave the Penguins with just a handful of options if they wish to explore the market on trading him.
Based on general manager Jim Rutherford’s anger on how the season ended and desire to change the team, Kessel and his contract makes sense to at least explore. Though for a $6.8 million cap hit, Kessel has produced 92 and 82 points in the last two seasons, a solid value. Can the Pens stay in their championship contention mode and still clear Kessel from the team?
Let’s check some options
The Rangers were on Kessel’s available-to-be-traded list in 2015, and given their rivalry with the Pens it makes sense he leaves them open again.
Need: High. New York never likes to rebuild for long and have now missed the playoffs two seasons in a row, and surely they won’t be looking to miss the playoffs a third season next year. NYR doesn’t really have a top-line right winger, though they did just sign 2018 first round pick Vitali Kratsov.
Interest: Unknown. Does Kessel move the needle for the Rangers? He’s older and still under contract for a few years and might be past prime by the time their young players are ready to truly compete. The Rangers also might be willing to dip into free agency and sign a younger player like Artemi Panarin or Jordan Eberle or someone along those lines that might fit the future better.
Viability: Extremely Low. Trading Kessel to a division rival doesn’t make a lot of sense for Pittsburgh. Similarly, New York isn’t going to be too excited to send any assets to the Pens to help them out and prop open the window.
There’s also this, in the last 16 years PIT/NYR have only made two trades, both of them of the very minor variety; the Pens sent minor league goalie Chad Johnson to NY for a fifth round pick in 2009, and in 2013 the Pens got minor leaguer Chad Kolarik (who) for Benn Ferriero (who).
Overall: Don’t count on it. The Pens and division rivals don’t rarely ever make trades (especially trades of any significance) in the salary cap era, so it would seem very long odds that interests would converge in order for both sides to be satisfied with a deal here.
Need: High. Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat are excellent wingers but beyond that the ‘Hawks could use more skill on the wing.
Interest: Probably Low. For their salary structure, one would think Chicago needs less big salaries, especially coming from a player in his 30’s. Unless Pitsburgh was willing to take Brent Seabrook and his $6.8 million and five years of term (oh, God, JR no) but he has a full no-movement clause too.
Viability: Low. Unless Chicago was willing to trade a younger player like Saad for Kessel (and ironically reverse trading a 40 point player for an 80 point player) than it’s tough to see a mutual match here. Kessel’s contract and age can’t be appealing to Chicago, and frankly other than Saad there’s not very many interesting parts that the Blackhawks could offer even if they wanted him.
Overall: Not the greatest fit in the world for either side
Need: Very High. After swinging and whiffing with signing Ilya Kovalchuk last year, the Kings ended up one of the worst offensive teams in the league, and one of the worst overall too. They definitely need more talent up front.
Interest: Probably goes up a lot if they could include Dustin Brown or Jeff Carter in the deal.
Viability: Reasonable. Weirdly enough, of all the four teams we’re looking at, the Kings have the least amount of cap space for next season with $72m already committed according to capfriendly. So a trade would have to include something back. Guessing if the Pens wanted to base something around Brown for Kessel there might be interest, but how much else could they get?
Overall: Best so far, though it’s very doubtful Pittsburgh can drop LA without bringing back salary, and whatever the offer is it’s not going to be as good of an on-ice option as Kessel.
Need: High. Another non-playoff team, Minnesota could use a talent infusion on the wing.
Interest: Kessel played his college hockey (for one year) in Minnesota and is from nearby Wisconsin so the fit seems natural on that end.
Viability: Medium. Minnesota was willing to trade Nino Neiddereiter away for Victor Rask ealier, so great value in trades isn’t always what they’re looking at. But it’s tough to see what Minnesota actually has that would even fit on the Penguins.
Overall: Of all the choices, it makes the most sense in a lot of ways, besides the important factor that what does MIN have that helps the Pens win next year? Not much.
As to be expected, there could be a couple of non-playoff teams on Kessel’s list who might be interested in him. But the salary cap will make it tricky and it definitely looks unlikely that the Pens can replace the high-end skill of Kessel by dealing him on a restrictive no trade clause.
Unless Phil is willing to waive to go somewhere that’s on his “no go” list, and some other team really makes a great pitch to him and Pittsburgh, a Kessel trade, as to be expected, would put the Pens further from the Stanley Cup in 2020 than closer to it. There’s no magic salary cap space to open up or convoluted future moves in tandem to combine this with, just have to see it for what it is. If the Pens want to be better on the ice they shouldn’t trade Kessel unless an unforeseen opportunity opens up.