It’s no secret that the Colorado Avalanche will be looking to add goal scoring to the lineup this offseason. In what was a spectacular year for their top line, the team showed a significant lack of depth to their roster. Beyond the trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen, there wasn’t anyone in the Avs lineup that was able to pose any sort of consistent threat to the opposition.
Now, reports speculate that one of the best scoring forwards in the NHL might be on the trading block once again. Numerous outlets in Pittsburgh are speculating that the Penguins will be looking to trade right winger Phil Kessel this summer. A move that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to onlookers, but one that would draw a lot of interest from other GMs around the NHL.
Now of course, we have to take these reports as what they are - trade rumors - but if Kessel is indeed available, he is the kind of player that might have Joe Sakic kicking tires.
Why Would the Penguins Want to Trade Kessel?
Really, the only reason that makes sense is from a financial perspective. As things sit today, the Pittsburgh Penguins have the second highest salary cap commitment for the 2018-19 season. Moving Kessel’s $6.8m cap hit would free up a lot of space and create a lot of flexibility for a team that has a few RFAs to sign.
Beyond that, you’d assume Pittsburgh would want to hold on to their second leading scorer and a guy who was a key cog in their back-to-back Stanley Cup Championship teams.
Why Would the Avalanche Be Interested?
It's hard to argue that Phil Kessel is one of the most consistently dangerous offensive players in the NHL. His 221 points over the last three seasons put him 15th in the league - one ahead of John Tavares. He’s not just a regular season scorer either. Over the past three postseasons, only Sidney Crosby has more points than Kessel. For a guy that has been much maligned in the media as a “player you can’t win with”, there’s no debating the kind of offensive production he can bring to a team.
Not only would Kessel make the Avs’ lineup a lot more dangerous, he would do it from a position that is the biggest weakness in the lineup. When you look at Colorado’s depth chart, they currently have zero right-shooting wingers on the roster. A trade for Kessel would bring one to the team.
Kessel’s health has to also be an appealing quality. Especially for an Avalanche that was decimated by injuries at times last season. For all the criticism he gets for his athletic appearance, durability is definitely one of Kessel’s major assets. The 30-year old hasn’t missed a game in the past eight seasons - that’s simply incredible.
Why Wouldn’t the Avalanche be Interested?
The main reason the Avs would shy away from a player like Kessel is his age. He will be 31 when next season starts, making him significant older than the core of this team. While he’s playing the best hockey of his career, it’s probably unlikely that Kessel with continue to thrive as he moves towards his mid-30s.
The Avalanche made a huge jump this season, but they’re still a few years away from being true contenders for the Cup. It might not be the best idea to give up assets for a player that is likely to decline as the team is looking to grow and develop into a contender.
Beyond age, the only other real issue would be the asking price. Pittsburgh isn’t going to give away a player that put up 92 points this past season. If they move him, the price is likely to be substantial.
What Would the Price Be?
This is a tough one. Every time we try to pin point what the asking price is during trade rumor season, we’re inevitably pretty far off. A few years ago, the Penguins acquired Kessel along with a 2nd round pick from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrington, Nick Spaling, as well as 1st and 3rd round picks. That’s a very high-end prospect, a 1st round pick and some depth in exchange for Kessel at age 27.
One would assume that if the Penguins are looking at this as a salary dump, they would be asking for a first round draft pick and either a young (cheap) roster player or a high-end prospect in exchange for Kessel this summer. It’s hard to see the Avs being willing to part with the 16th overall pick in this draft.
Maybe there’s something else that could be done. The Penguins are likely to be Cup contenders again next season, so they could be open to something that would have more of an impact on their current lineup. Trade from strength to fill holes elsewhere.
Would a deal centered around Kessel and Tyson Barrie make sense?
Barrie has long been the topic of trade rumors of his own, and the Penguins could definitely use help on the blueline. The deal would save Pittsburgh some money and give them a second elite puck mover to play behind Kris Letang. You’d assume Sakic would be looking for a little more than just Kessel in a trade like this. Perhaps Joe could figure out a way to get Tristan Jarry in this deal as well - giving the Avs their much needed goalie of the future.
Maybe moving Barrie is too much for the Avs, would a deal focused on J.T. Compher and Shane Bowers make sense?
There are a ton of possibilities, so it’s impossible to pin down exactly what either team would be bringing to negotiations. The one thing that is certain, is that if Joe Sakic is doing his job properly, he’s already spoken to Jim Rutherford to find out what the Pens GM has in mind.
If the price is right, should the Avalanche make a play for Phil Kessel?
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