It’s pretty quiet in Penguins’ land right now, but the Trib still found Jeremy Roenick talking a little Phil Kessel. JR’s take is that Kessel is angling to arrive in Arizona.
“I know where he wants to go and we’ll see if he gets that option,” Roenick told 550 AM in Buffalo. “He does want to go west. There is one team that he does want to go play for, and I don’t think he’ll stand for anything less. He’ll stay in Pittsburgh and his contract now and be happy with it or not be happy with it or they’ll trade him to the team that he wants to go to.”
Roenick declined to specify Kessel’s preferred destination, hinting that it was a team in the southwest United States that didn’t make the playoffs this season.
It’s pretty clear Roenick was referring to the Arizona Coyotes.
And not necessarily referring to the article mentioned above, but one new media trope seems to be “Arizona can’t afford Kessel with his $6.8 million cap hit”. Just as no one seemed to catch onto that his no trade clause would make Kessel difficult to trade, Kessel’s contract has answers to if Arizona can handle him.
Just look at capfriendly with the key column being the “Total salary” at the right:
Kessel’s contract was front-loaded in the first few years where he earned an actual salary of $10 million for two years, $9.0 million the next two years and 2019-20 will be his second year of actually making $7.0 million.
For the future Kessel will “only” make $6.0 million for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons. And remember, Toronto is still on the hook for 15% of all of this.
Therefore, Kessel has $19.0m remaining to be paid in the next three years. If Arizona were to acquire him, they would have to pickup $16.15 million of that (or $5.38 million per season).
Suddenly that seems a lot more workable, especially considering the Coyotes would be likely to have to send a player like Alex Galchenyuk ($4.9 million annually) or Christian Dvorak ($4.45 million annually) back to Pittsburgh in exchange for Kessel.
Now, whether or not the ‘Yotes think it wise to pay a winger in his 32-35 age seasons an average actual expense of $5.38 million, is possibly another story.
Also another unknown remains Kessel’s willingness to go to the desert.
One chief reason Phil reportedly rejected a trade to the Minnesota Wild is because he (correctly) figured they would not be a competitive team. Per The Athletic’s Michael Russo:
Kessel didn’t initially have the Wild on his eight-team “Yes” list, and those who figured Kessel would automatically want to play close to his native Wisconsin and where he went to college at the University of Minnesota appear to be mistaken.
Kessel just doesn’t like the makeup of the Wild’s roster, sources say, and doesn’t think they’re close to contending in a cutthroat Central Division in which they finished last. Fenton tried to convince him otherwise, but sources say Kessel wondered who would get him the puck and wasn’t swayed by the touted young talent — presumably Fiala, Donato, Luke Kunin, Jordan Greenway, etc.
Now, Kessel has resigned himself to the belief he will not be back in Pittsburgh. But since he has the hammer and is in no hurry, Kessel doesn’t feel he must simply accept a trade to Minnesota if there may be other more appealing options that pop up in the coming weeks.
In that case, what is so alluring about the Coyotes as a team? They haven’t made or won a playoff series since 2012, the second longest drought in the league. That’s as long as the Flyers have won a series too! Arizona has long been known as a moribund franchise stumbling through the literal desert of the NHL. That Kessel would reject Minnesota because they have no one good enough to play with in his eyes, then there’s not much more reason to think Arizona is checking any boxes.
The key factor is always mentioned as Rick Tocchet. But how strong is Tocchet’s draw? In the NHL coaches get fired all the time. Tocchet hasn’t even been in Arizona for two years and yet 15 coaches have turned over since then, about half the league. Given Tocc’s 68-76-20 record there, he could be on the chopping block sooner than later. Only three current coaches have been with a team for four years right now.
Given the nature of coaching changes, a player with a three-year contract shouldn’t expect a middling coach to run out that contract. If Kessel goes to Arizona in large or whole part for Tocchet, where does that leave him if/when Tocchet is fired as soon as potentially in-season next season? Surely a player as cautious and introspective of weighing his options like Kessel needs to consider that Tocchet is going into year three with AZ in a league where not many guys get a year four.
All in all, not a lot really makes sense for Kessel to prefer to get himself traded to Arizona on surface level. However, Phil is an unconventional player and person and might have other factors or concerns that lead him to want to go out there. Nothing can really be dismissed, even if logic and common sense don’t have a ton of positives professionally for such a move to take place. Kessel does hold some of the cards with his restrictive no trade clause, so we will just have to wait and see what he actually does want to play.