The sparks immediately flew when Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported the Penguins gauged interest in dealing Phil Kessel earlier this season. The Jim Rutherford chats likely occurred not long after Rutherford put his team on notice and wondered aloud if they have been together too long. The Sportsnet report also comes on the heels of reported conversations about Kessel leading up to the NHL Draft, last June.
Sure, the Penguins could trade Phil Kessel. Under one condition: the return makes them better.
And therein lays the problem. It will be nearly impossible to trade Phil Kessel for a return which makes the Penguins better this season. However, Kessel is nearly untradeable for equal value not because he is entirely irreplaceable but because few teams will dish a substantial return for a mercurial 31-year-old sniper.
And say nothing of Kessel’s recent awful play, last season and this season, with centers not named Evgeni Malkin.
What would it take to replace Phil Kessel?
The numbers are not as difficult to replace as one may assume. 92 points last season! Yes, Kessel had a monster year and is putting up more than one point per game this season.
However, Kessel’s 5v5 work is not elite. It’s not even great. He is currently 22nd in even-strength scoring with 17 points (7g, 10a) which puts Kessel on a nearly similar track as last season when he posted 50 even strength points and 42 power play points.
Currently, other right wings such as Timo Meier, Jason Pominville, and Mikael Granlund have the same 5v5 stats as Kessel. That’s not great company, though it’s not bad either. Digging further into Kessel’s value, is a mixed bag, too.
Nearly 70 percent of Kessel’s shifts begin in the offensive zone. That’s a huge testament to the work which Sidney Crosby performs against the opponent’s top lines and a wink and a nod by the coaches to Kessel’s offensive ability and semi-commitment to the other zones.
This season, Kessel and Malkin have produced more goals for than against–a stark turnaround from last season. However, Kessel’s advanced vitals are still well underwater. Despite beginning most shifts in his happy place, Kessel’s Corsi is only 47 percent. His scoring chance ratio is only 49 percent and his high-danger chances are only at 45 percent.
However, this season, Kessel is producing a goals-for ratio of 55 percent. Last season it was under 50 percent, which is more true to the negative advanced stats. And this is where Kessel’s value erodes or rises; Kessel’s goals-for numbers will likely regress to even or slightly below, based on his career numbers.
In reality, a 55 to 60 point scorer with good defensive acumen could replace Kessel. By limiting turnovers, scoring chances, and goals, a new player would not have to post equal numbers to replace Kessel.
But teams aren’t generally willing to part with that kind of player, especially for a player on the wrong side of 31-years-old who makes $6.8 million. To deal Kessel, the Penguins would likely have to sacrifice a bit of their present in exchange for the future. The Penguins would have to accept a high pick, a prospect, and a lesser player.
Just like the Penguins dished to Toronto–Kasperi Kapanen, Nick Spaling, Scott Harrington, and first-round pick and third-round picks.
Could the Penguins survive that reverse trade now? Nope.
And so it is–The Penguins can gauge the market every so often on Phil Kessel. We’ll report it. We’ll debate it. But the Penguins are probably married to Kessel, his gifts and his negatives.
That one condition to trade Kessel–to get better–isn’t very likely.