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Penguins' Jim Rutherford doesn't foresee trading Phil Kessel

Jonathan Bombulie
| Thursday, July 13, 2017, 1:03 p.m.
Phil Kessel waves to the crowd on Grant Street during the parade on Wednesday, June 14, 2017, celebrating the Penguins' Stanley Cup win.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Phil Kessel waves to the crowd on Grant Street during the parade on Wednesday, June 14, 2017, celebrating the Penguins' Stanley Cup win.
The Penguins' Phil Kessel raises the Cupafter beating the Predators in the Stanley Cup Final Sunday, June 11 , 2017 at Bridgestone Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Phil Kessel raises the Cupafter beating the Predators in the Stanley Cup Final Sunday, June 11 , 2017 at Bridgestone Arena.
The Penguins' Phil Kessel takes a shot against the Blue Jackets in the second period during game one in first round Stanley Cup action Wednesday, April 12, 2017 at PPG Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Phil Kessel takes a shot against the Blue Jackets in the second period during game one in first round Stanley Cup action Wednesday, April 12, 2017 at PPG Arena.

Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford didn't say he never will trade Phil Kessel, but he painted the high-scoring winger as an important part of his team's roster during a radio interview Thursday morning.

The idea of trading Kessel was popular talk-show fodder in recent days.

“Phil Kessel's an important part of the Penguins,” Rutherford said in an interview on 93.7 The Fan. “He gets a lot of points. He scores big goals. He sets up big goals. The more impact players that you have, like we have, the better chance you have of winning.

“It may not be on a regular basis, but it may come at a certain time in a series or whatnot, just like it did against Ottawa. Kessel came up with the big goal in that 1-0 game (in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals).

“He's an important part. I don't want to sit here and say that a certain player's not going to get traded at some point in his career. I mean, Phil already did. But that's not something that I foresee happening right now.”

Kessel was a highly productive player last season, recording 70 points in the regular season and 23 points in 25 playoff games. But his goal total, which peaked at 37 twice during his six seasons in Toronto from 2009-15, fell to 23.

Kessel had a strong relationship with assistant coach Rick Tocchet, who left the Penguins to become coach of the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday.

A trade to add a third-line center, meanwhile, remains on the offseason agenda for the Penguins. They need to find a replacement for Nick Bonino, who left for Nashville in free agency, but Rutherford told the radio station the addition is not likely to break the bank.

The Penguins are about $9.5 million under the $75 million salary cap with 12 forwards and seven defensemen under contract.

Winger Conor Sheary and defenseman Brian Dumoulin are due big raises in arbitration.

After that process is complete, Rutherford said the Penguins project they'll have about $2 million left to add a third-line center.

Unless the team moves out a player making a significant salary, financial reality would rule out some of the big-ticket centers who have been mentioned in Penguins-related rumors.

For instance, Rutherford said, to his knowledge, Carolina's Jordan Staal, who makes $6 million a year, is not available in trade.

Colorado's Matt Duchene also makes $6 million per year. Toronto's Tyler Bozak makes $4.2 million.

Note: The Penguins will participate in a four-team rookie tournament Sept. 8-11 at the 1,800-seat Harbor Creek rink in Buffalo, N.Y. The Sabres, New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins also will take part. For the previous four seasons, the Penguins traveled to a prospect tournament in London, Ontario.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

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