The Pittsburgh Penguins tried to trade Phil Kessel last month to the Minnesota Wild, but after the enigmatic forward wouldn’t waive his no-trade clause the deal fell apart. Now, in conversation with The Athletic’s Josh Yohe (subscription required), Penguins GM Jim Rutherford admits that Kessel will likely play for Pittsburgh next season.
Kessel, 31, has three years remaining on his contract with the Penguins but holds a no-trade clause that limits the teams he can be sent to. In fact, Kessel submits a list of just eight teams he would accept trades to, and given his history in certain markets that likely leaves only a few real options for Rutherford. With such a huge leverage advantage, it’s easy to see why the Penguins GM is resigned to having his star forward remain next year. There was no use in trading him without getting something in return, as even with his ’problem child’ persona—tenuous as that moniker may be.
Kessel is after all an incredible offensive weapon even as he enters his thirties. He recorded 82 points in 82 games last season, and now has 823 for his career through 996 regular season games. That huge total of games played comes from the face that he has now not missed a single game in nine consecutive seasons, consistency that is also valuable to a team looking to contend for the Stanley Cup.
Still, Rutherford has been clear that he intends on shaking things up in Pittsburgh this summer. While he has backed off his earlier comments about Evgeni Malkin potentially not being a core piece any longer—Rutherford tells Yohe that he “knew [Malkin] was going to be part of this team going forward”—there is still real change brewing for the team. Kessel’s nixed trade proves that, but the veteran GM will need to find another way to clear cap space and give his club a different look next season.