While the Penguins certainly aren’t looking to offload Phil Kessel by any means necessary, the NHL trade market has shown some expected enthusiasm for one of last season’s top scorers.
According to a source with knowledge of the situation, at least two Eastern Conference teams that missed the playoffs in 2017-18 have made initial trade proposals for Kessel. The source characterizes the Penguins as being interested in what these East also-rans are offering, although it should be noted these discussions are in their early stages.
After Kessel put up a career-best 92 points in the regular season, there should be no surprise that most (if not all) NHL teams would be intrigued to hear the news that friction has built between Kessel and Mike Sullivan. I’ve been told that the Penguins aren’t determined to trade Kessel, a player whose skills they still value very much, but Jim Rutherford and staff are keeping their options open when it comes to restructuring this team for another run at a championship.
Sorted from most points to fewest, here are the eight East teams that missed the Stanley Cup playoffs this year: Panthers, Hurricanes, Islanders, Rangers, Red Wings, Canadiens, Senators and Sabres. Kessel, who will be 31 by the start of the 2018-19 season, has four years left on a contract that pays him $8 million annually, although the Maple Leafs will take care of $1.2 million yearly for the duration of the deal. CapFriendly reports that Kessel’s modified no-trade clause mandates the player give the team a list of eight teams he would be OK with joining.
Kessel ranked seventh in the league in regular-season points and 17th in goals (34), but he scored just one goal in 12 playoff games. Although he did chip in eight assists as well, his performance this spring fueled speculation that he was fighting through a significant injury, a theory Sullivan shot down after the Penguins were eliminated by the Capitals in the second round.
Shortly after, PHN learned there was some sort of ill feeling building between Kessel and the coaching staff. This emotion was at least partially pertaining to Kessel’s determination to play through injuries during the regular season, rather than get himself completely healthy for the playoffs.
The Athletic’s Josh Yohe reported this week (subscription required) that Kessel himself was frustrated by not getting to play much with Evgeni Malkin during the playoffs, as contrasted against Kessel’s frequent pairing with Malkin during the 2017 Cup run. Based on advanced statistics, our Dan Kingerski backed up Sullivan’s decision in the Evgeni Malkin Report Card (subscription required).
We’ll continue to monitor the latest developments this summer. For all of our coverage of Kessel’s developing situation, click here.