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McKenzie: Potential for Penguins trading Phil Kessel to Minnesota Wild “still could go down”

Phil Kessel and Jim Rutherford are dancing a very interesting dance this summer.

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NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Toronto Maple Leafs Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The ultimate insider, Bob McKenzie had an update on his podcast “Bobcast” about the Phil Kessel situation with the Minnesota Wild.

McKenzie acknowledged the rampant reports from Minnesota, Pittsburgh and nationally about the inclusion of Jack Johnson and Victor Rask being involved in the deal to flip bad contracts, but doesn’t think that will be the case any longer.

“My understanding, and I could be wrong on this, is if the trade does go down — and it still could go down — that it would be a one-for-one trade; Kessel for Zucker. Anyways right now it’s a moot point because Kessel gave Pittsburgh Penguins a thumbs down on that thanks to the flexibility he has with a no trade clause in his contract.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if, at some point, [a trade] gets done with Minnesota,” McKenzie said. “Kessel’s ‘no’ to Pittsburgh wasn’t really a hard, 100 percent no so much as it was, ‘naw, I don’t really want to go there, maybe you could check with some other teams.’”

“I think there is frustration on Kessel’s part that the Penguins maybe aren’t checking with other teams or aren’t interested in doing deals with other teams where Kessel wants to go.”

The name that again popped up as to where Kessel wanted to go was Arizona, where Rick Tocchet is the head coach. According to McKenzie, Vegas would be another team Kessel would be “happy” to go to. McKenzie noted prior to Vegas acquiring Mark Stone, they were interested in Kessel.

However, being as the Golden Knights have signed Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone recently to longterm contracts, their need for another high-priced winger is non-existent since they have limited cap space.

McKenzie also floated a new angle too - what if the Penguins don’t find a trade, how do they move on then?

“I think Phil is trying to push the Penguins to talk to other teams that he knows have interest in him that would be more interested in going to than Minnesota. And I get the sense that Pittsburgh is having none of that. I think the latest [sense] in Pittsburgh would be that if we can’t get the Kessel-for-Zucker deal done then fine, we’ll keep Phil and he’ll be part of our team. Knowing that obviously it’s not the most favorable situation when you’re a player like Phil Kessel knowing that the Penguins are trying to move on from you. We’ll see how that soap opera plays out.”

Pierre Lebrun had a similar take recently:

A week ago I would have told you it was 99 percent certain that Phil Kessel would get dealt this summer.

Now that has softened. That’s because the Penguins have let Kessel know they’re more than happy to keep him if a trade can’t be worked out.

My read on that is that GM Jim Rutherford is only going to trade Kessel in a real hockey deal where he gets tangible assets in return. He’s not looking to make a soft deal where it’s just about dumping Kessel — who remains an offensive force — Rutherford wants a return that reflects that

This all makes for some high drama in the off-season, which probably will peak around the NHL draft and as teams gear up for free agency.

Kessel has a lot of power with his no trade clause, but he can’t force the Pens to send him anywhere. And despite Kessel’s supposed interest in the Coyotes, it doesn’t seem like there’s been much of any real traction between Arizona and Pittsburgh to get a deal done that both sides would like.

So now it seems like Phil’s options at the moment are:

  • A) accept a trade to Minnesota — which would have to be a limited time offer since the Wild surely will be looking to finally trade Zucker (a player nearly dealt in a very public manner two times already)
  • B) be content to come back to Pittsburgh — where the coach and manager don’t want you
  • C) wait it out — and hope a team you like materializes AND gives the Pens a good enough offer

“C” is probably what Phil wants, yet seemingly the most remote possibility right now. However, that could change with one phone call if a team wants him. “A” is certainly what the Pens want to just be able and move on. “B” is probably what neither party wants, yet would become more likely without someone breaking the stalemate. And what if the Wild move on and deal Zucker somewhere else? That about sends everything back to square one at this point.

In a non-dramatic way (and without, you know, the murdering and illicit narcotics) this sort of feels like Jim Rutherford is Gus Fring and Phil Kessel is Walter White in Season 4 of Breaking Bad where two iron-willed men are locked in a fierce struggle of ego. And though both are powerful, they’re still beholden to each other and while technically on the same team, they’re both angling on how to best separate and come out the winner of the struggle.

...Or maybe I’ve just got caught up in a summer re-watch of a great show. Regardless, there’s probably plenty more twists and turns to come this summer as we see what the future will or won’t hold for Kessel and the Pens.