PHN Blog: Penguins Trade or No Trade, Kessel Matures
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PHN Blog: Penguins Trade or No Trade, Kessel Matures

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Pittsburgh Penguins Phil Kessel

There are no such things as random thoughts when your mind is always going. Or you are always writing. The Pittsburgh Penguins are a week away from training camp and the team still isn’t settled. In this crazy NHL offseason, the NHLPA may have snookered its own members by flatlining the cap to alleviate the escrow angst. Teams across the league don’t have as much money as they projected but player values are static.

The hardcore youth movement which has invaded the game like Hannibal on an elephant has created expensive second contracts for a handful of players who have enough value to demand full market value.

The Penguins and league are in flux. After a summer of film work, ponderance, and spending far too much time analyzing things, my thoughts have evolved. But at least the Penguins finally have a few prospects.

5. There is not a fair solution to the league-wide logjam

We all thought Mitch Marner, Charlie McAvoy, Zach Werenski and the dozen other viable RFA players would be signed by now. That list definitely includes Marcus Pettersson.

The game of musical chairs never started. In years past, teams with cap space would fleece the cap-strapped teams for good draft picks or moderate assets in exchange for accepting bad contracts. That process never started this summer.

The cap-rich teams realized there were a lot of cap-poor teams. Supply and demand. The price went up and the tight teams decided to pass on dishing first-round picks before a talent-rich draft. The 2020 Draft is projected to be similarly stocked, so teams have been stingy with next year picks, too.

Dump valuable players, give up a top pick, hope the restricted free agent buckles, or live without the RFA. Those are the only choices.

4. Penguins No-Trade Options

Sure, it’s very important to me that PHN is given its due. If you’ve been with us all summer, we specifically laid out how the Penguins could get under the cap back in July. Now it seems like a probability the Penguins will attempt to get under the cap without making a deal.

By sending Juuso Riikola and Chad Ruhwedel or Zach Trotman to the minors, using Tristan Jarry as the backup goalie and rolling with only 22 players instead of 23, the Penguins can get just about enough coin to sign Marcus Pettersson to a one-year deal.

The Penguins won the staredown with Zach Aston-Reese and got a two-year deal at $1 million per season. After the waiting game, the player was happy to sign. Pettersson is probably worth about $2 million, but he’ll get less if he wants to play hockey this season.

The consequences of doing the salary cap limbo without jettisoning salary to another team will be costly. If the Penguins are forced to sign Pettersson to a lowball one-year deal, they will pay dearly next summer. That is bad news because the Penguins will need money for Matt Murray, Jared McCann, and perhaps Justin Schultz and Alex Galchenyuk. That’s a going to be a jailbreak from Mario Lemieux’s wallet.

Sooner or later, the Penguins have to make a trade. Or several. The cost won’t go down, literally or figuratively.

3. Sam Poulin

He’s going to play in the NHL within three years. The NHL deal with junior hockey leagues to return 18 and 19-year-olds to junior hockey instead of assigning them to the AHL will set Poulin back by one year.

The difference in Sam Miletic from last year to this year has been extraordinary. Poulin would be an NHL’er much sooner if he started playing against professionals ASAP.

Poulin didn’t dominate in the first game of the Prospect Challenge but his game had a surprising level of polish. He may not ever score 25 goals; his ceiling is still to be determined. He told PHN he’s worked hard with a private trainer this summer on his skating. As that improves, he’ll be a disruptive force. He has “it”.

2. Phil Kessel

Perhaps you noticed Phil Kessel’s comments during his public press conference in Phoenix. He wants to be a better leader. Rick Tocchet is downplaying Kessel’s career offensive production and talking about leaving a “legacy.”

I can’t help but wonder if Tocchet was inspired by former teammate Jaromir Jagr, who had a sullied reputation until coming back to the NHL and becoming a beloved leader of the Philadelphia Flyers. Whatever frustrations Kessel may have caused Tocchet in Pittsburgh, Kessel believes in Tocchet and it sure sounded like the belief is legitimately returned.

Kessel wasn’t needed as a Penguins leader, and that was long thought to be a major benefit for Kessel. Perhaps being accountable or the chance to help a perennial loser become a winner will be what spurs Kessel in the next chapter. I’ll be watching.

1.  Aggressive Coverage

PHN is at somewhat of a crossroads. We could make more money and get more clicks with a greater quantity of lighter stories. Google rewards such things but I can’t imagine that’s what you really want.

Believe it or not, Pittsburgh Hockey Now has the team of reporters which has been together longer than all of the outlets covering the Pittsburgh Penguins. And, with respect to everyone else–hardworking folks, all of them–I’ll stack our ability to dig for stories, analyze the game and players, and bring out details for your knowledge, against everyone else. From scouting these prospects to breaking down the NHL games, superior content will be available. Revenues from PHN+ will be important to continue our growth.

We enjoy being the little guys; being the little engine that could. To that end, we have an open-door policy. If you want us to explore a topic or story, drop me a line.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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