The NHL season hasn’t even come to an end yet and already we’re getting some juicy offseason trade rumors. Last week it was reported that the Pittsburgh Penguins were on the verge of trading Phil Kessel to the Minnesota Wild only to have the star winger use his no-trade clause to veto the deal. The trade would have sent the former University of Minnesota Gopher to the Wild in a deal that would have sent Jason Zucker to the Penguins. Now it appears to be only a matter of time before Kessel is moved out of Pittsburgh - they just need to find a destination that is suitable for him.
The 31-year-old winger has three years remaining on his contract. The has an annual cap hit of $8-million - $1.2m of which is owned by the Toronto Maple Leafs. A $6.8m cap his is pretty good value for a guy who has put up 174 points over the last two seasons and hasn’t missed a game since 2010. What makes Kessel’s contract even more appealing is that it was front-loaded making his actual salary only $19m over the next three seasons.
Sure Kessel is on the wrong side of 30, but he hasn’t been aging the same way as most of his cohorts. Kessel’s best two offensive seasons have come after his 30th birthday. He’s been durable, a point per game player and you wouldn’t be committing to him long-term. He’s exactly the kind of complimentary player the Avalanche should be looking for.
The Penguins need to get younger and it appears as though Kessel is going to be the first one to be moved out.
What he would cost
If Zucker is the main piece the Penguins were going to get back from Minnesota, that might cause an issue for Joe Sakic. Zucker isn’t as good as the Avs best players but he’s a huge step up from their secondary group. If it’s a player like Zucker Pittsburgh is looking for then Colorado is out of luck.
That said, one thing the Avalanche have that would be quite appealing to the Penguins is cap space. Pittsburgh only has about $3.2 million to play with this summer so any Kessel trade would likely have to act as a partial salary dump. The Avalanche could offer one of their young RFAs along with a strong pick or prospect, allowing Pittsburgh to add a roster player while creating a little cap flexibility.
Would a deal centered around Alexander Kerfoot or Nikita Zadorov - who is due new contracts in the $3m-$4m range - be enough to get a deal done? Who knows, but it’s worth a try. That kind of trade would cut Pittsburgh’s salary obligation for next season while giving them a legitimate NHLer (and presumably a couple other assets) to plug into the lineup.
A perfect fit for the Avs
By now it’s no secret what the biggest hole is for the Avalanche - the team needs forwards that can score. The big-3 of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen have done a great job of carrying the offensive load for the past two seasons, but if Colorado hopes to take the next step towards contention, they top line is going to need some help.
Enter Phil Kessel. He is a bonafide 30 goals scorer and has proven he is able to fill up the stat sheet when he’s not being asked to be the team’s best player. During his time in Toronto, Kessel was miscast as the offensive leader and his production suffered as a result. Since becoming a complimentary player in Pittsburgh, he’s played the best hockey of his career and won two Stanley Cups.
He’s one of the few players in the league that can play at a pace close to MacKinnon’s and would add a much needed right-handed shot to the forward group. With Kessel driving the offense on the second line, the Avs could have a legitimate second wave to throw at the opposition immediately following the onslaught of the MacKinnon line. This Avalanche team likes to play with a ton of speed, Kessel would fit that perfectly.
Maybe the Avalanche aren’t a desired destination for Kessel either but he’s worth Sakic making a call to inquire. This Colorado lineup is one that would be much more appealing to play with than the one Kessel said “no thank you” to in Minnesota. Point per game players don’t become available every day, so in a situation like this the Avalanche should be making a strong push.