Analysis: Potential trade destinations for Penguins' Phil Kessel
Despite the kicking-and-screaming protests from his maniacal fan base in Pittsburgh, trade speculation continues to surround Phil Kessel.
Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic quoted general manager Jim Rutherford as saying that much of the speculation surrounding Kessel is "blown out of proportion."
What speculation was he referring to? The speculation of a trade? Or the speculation over the alleged disconnect between Kessel and head coach Mike Sullivan?
Based on the story, it sounds as if Rutherford is trying to quell conversation about Kessel being upset more than he is trying to tamp down trade talk.
That would be smart on Rutherford's part. Unplug the talk about Kessel being a malcontent and let the discussions about him being on the market breathe. After all, that could certainly drive up potential offers.
Rutherford said "I don't feel we have to trade Phil Kessel."
OK. But "we don't have to" is a far cry from "we won't." Heck, that's not even as strong of a denial as we got from Kevin Colbert when it came to talk of trading Martavis Bryant in February.
Then he ended up doing so in April.
Here's another line from LeBrun's story.
"As far as I can tell, Rutherford is not aiming to trade Kessel, but he can't prevent teams from calling."
Again, sound familiar? So maybe the Raiders will offer a nice pick for Kessel on draft day like they did ol' Martavis, huh? I can see Kessel working great with Derek Carr.
A team LeBrun says might be interested in acquiring Kessel is Los Angeles. As he states, it's currently unknown if the Kings are on Kessel's eight-team approved trade list. It would make sense if they were. If they aren't, maybe Kessel can be massaged into saying "he loves LA."
They still are a playoff team. Kessel could go there and be a little fish in a big pond. He'd like that. Plus, he could give the Kings the offensive jolt they need after LA finished 16th in goals and 17th on the power play percentage.
Sportsnet published this list of five potential destinations for Kessel: Calgary, New Jersey, Columbus, Vegas and Minnesota.
Let's eliminate the Blue Jackets and Devils off the top. I can't see Rutherford trading Kessel in the division. Not with the way the Metro is stacked and with the way the playoffs are currently formatted.
I've heard Calgary a few times before. Sure, that'd be a great fit for the Flames. Kessel could do well playing on a line with Johnny Gaudreau. But why he would ever approve a trade to return to the Canadian fishbowl? He escaped that when was traded from Toronto.
In terms of style and being a little too close to home after playing college hockey there, Minnesota may not be appealing to Kessel either.
Vegas could work.
The Golden Knights may need to replace either James Neal or David Perron (or both). They are going to be unrestricted free agents.
If the Knights keep William Karlsson as a restricted free agent, he could potentially be a center Kessel would enjoy playing with. We also know Kessel's favorite hobby is playing cards. Rumor has it you can do that in Vegas at a few places.
Vegas has the cap space to fit Kessel ($26 million projected) , as well as picks and prospects to send back to Pittsburgh in return.
Another potential destination for Kessel could be Arizona. He was known for a having a good relationship with Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet. They will have a projected $23.9 million in space. The Penguins are also said to have an interest in Arizona restricted free agent Max Domi.
Lastly, If Kessel likes playing in relative anonymity, well, what's more anonymous than being an Arizona Coyote?
It's important to note that Vegas, Los Angeles and Arizona are all in the Western Conference. So Kessel — aside from two regular season games a year — wouldn't be at risk of torturing the Penguins until the Stanley Cup Final.
I'm still of the opinion that keeping Kessel and putting him on a line with Evgeni Malkin is the way to go for Rutherford and Sullivan. But any of those three options make sense if he feels that significant return can be extracted.