While the departure of former Pittsburgh assistant coach Rick Tocchet to Arizona as their new bench boss has fueled some speculation that the Penguins could trade Phil Kessel, GM Jim Rutherford poured some cold water on that theory. Speaking with 93.7 The Fan on Wednesday (transcription via Jonathan Bombulie of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review), Rutherford made it clear that they don’t anticipate moving him as things currently stand:
“He’s an important part. I don’t want to sit here and say that a certain player’s not going to get traded at some point in his career. I mean, Phil already did. But that’s not something that I foresee happening right now.”
Tocchet was known to have a strong relationship with Kessel, whose streaky tendencies have irked head coach Mike Sullivan at times. However, despite that, the 29-year-old remains one of the higher scoring wingers in the NHL so there is plenty of incentive to hold on to him, particularly since the Maple Leafs are already paying 15% of his contract.
It’s at least worth noting that Kessel’s goal production has taken a tumble in recent years even if it hasn’t come at the expense of his point totals. In 2013-14, he had a career-best 37 goals but has only surpassed the 25 goal mark once since then; his 23 tallies this past season was his lowest in a full campaign since his sophomore year back in 2007-08. However, he’s also not the focal point of Pittsburgh’s attack like he was in Toronto either. Put it all together and it’s hard to come up with a compelling case for them to move Kessel at this time.
Still with the Penguins, in that same interview, Rutherford briefly discussed Carolina center Jordan Staal, noting that to his knowledge, he’s not available in a trade. Pittsburgh is still on the lookout for a third line center and they’re certainly familiar with Staal, who they drafted second overall in 2006. However, with a $6MM cap hit, he’d be rather pricey for someone who would be earmarked for a bottom six role.