2:40pm: Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic has actually heard that Kessel may not waive his clause for a deal to Minnesota. Other teams that are on his small trade list have contacted the Penguins, and LeBrun believes it is a matter of “when not if” for a trade at this point.
1:05pm: The Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t been secretive about their plans to shake up the roster this summer, and Phil Kessel’s name has been front and center in all of the trade speculation. That seems to be coming to a head, as Josh Yohe of The Atheltic (subscription required) reports that the Penguins are in talks with the Minnesota Wild on a trade revolving around Kessel. Yohe notes that Jason Zucker, who has also been available in recent months, would likely be going the other way if a deal can be reached, while Jack Johnson and Victor Rask have been discussed.
The trade has apparently been “on the table for days” with Kessel’s no-trade clause the only impediment at this point. That trade clause allows Kessel to submit a list of only eight teams he can be traded to, though he can obviously waive it to accept a deal anywhere else.
Kessel, 31, is coming off another point-per-game season that saw him register 27 goals and 82 points while continuing his near decade long iron man streak. The veteran winger is an incredible offensive player but has often been critiqued for his inconsistent defensive effort and prickly personality. While teammates will often speak extremely highly of the Wisconsin native, he has proven difficult to coach at times and has already been traded twice in his career.
Still, his offensive ability and Stanley Cup experience are exactly what the Wild are looking for after failing to make the playoffs this season. Owner Craig Leipold recently made it clear that he wants the team to get back to the postseason tournament next season, and GM Paul Fenton has already done quite a bit of work to break up the former veteran core. Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter have all been shipped out over the last few months, and Zucker could now be on his way out as well.
Yohe’s colleague Michael Russo detailed earlier this week how Zucker was being shopped around, and even listed Kessel first in his examination of potential returns. The fact that Kessel provides a right-handed shot for the Wild forward group, an attribute they are desperately in need of, makes him an even more attractive option.
Obviously if a deal is completed it will likely include more than just the two forwards, but in a vacuum they don’t represent very different financial commitments. Zucker has four years left on his contract that carries a $5.5MM cap hit while Kessel carries a $6.8MM hit over the next three. The Wild would actually end up paying less actual salary, give the front-loading of Kessel’s deal and the fact that the Toronto Maple Leafs are still retaining $1.2MM per season.