Penguins actively shopping popular winger Phil Kessel
After the Pittsburgh Penguins bowed out of the playoffs in a first-round sweep at the hands of the New York Islanders last month, it quickly became clear changes to the team’s roster were afoot.
That wave of change appears likely to sweep up winger Phil Kessel.
The Penguins actively are shopping the 32-year-old fan favorite, a league source confirmed Thursday.
A deal could prove difficult to complete for a number of reasons. Most notably, Kessel has a restrictive no-trade clause that allows him to be moved to only eight teams without his prior consent.
Also, Kessel carries a $6.8 million cap hit on a contract with three years remaining. That’s not an exorbitant sum for a player who has recorded at least a point per game in each of the past two seasons, but it could require an acquiring team to make adjustments to its roster.
The Penguins, however, are motivated to make a trade happen.
Such a move wouldn’t surprise Kessel. He was asked about his future with the team moments after the Penguins were eliminated from the playoffs.
“I don’t know at this point,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes this summer.”
According to multiple published reports, the Minnesota Wild are one of the teams interested in Kessel.
Minnesota is looking to shake up its roster under first-year general manager Paul Fenton, and the Wild finished 27th in the league in offense and 14th in the league on the power play this season. Kessel could help on both fronts.
Kessel’s arrival from Toronto in a 2015 trade gave the Penguins a critical third offensive option behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. It helped the team claim back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 2016-17, and his numbers haven’t tailed off. Kessel has averaged 30 goals and 87 points over the past two seasons.
The Penguins wouldn’t move Kessel because they’re unsatisfied with his production. They would move him because they’re not satisfied with his overall game.
After being swept by the Islanders, coach Mike Sullivan said the Penguins needed to have 100 percent effort in a number of areas, and none of them is exactly Kessel’s specialty.
“When we’ve had success as a group, with this very same core of players, we were a team that could score goals, but I think what went unnoticed or really not discussed much was we were hard to play against,” Sullivan said. “We had back pressure on the puck. We had sticks. We defended hard. We limited opportunities at the net. There was all kinds of aspects of our game that made us a team that’s difficult to play against.
“The identity of this group, in order to have success regardless of what your strategy is, you have to become a difficult team to play against. Everybody’s got to be held accountable to it, and everybody’s got to take ownership for it.”
Putting aside any dissatisfaction with Kessel’s game, the Penguins are in a position where they have to make some offseason alterations to their roster no matter the circumstances.
With the re-signing of Chad Ruhwedel on Thursday, they have eight defensemen on one-way NHL contracts. By the time they get all their own free agents under contract, they project to be about $3 million over the salary cap.
Therefore, the Penguins are likely to move at least one defenseman from their roster this summer as well.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review assistant sports editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .