We’ve officially entered the most dreadful period of the NHL offseason.
The Entry Draft has come and gone and the free agency frenzy is slowly dissipating. With the fun transactions dying down and training camp still months away, this is the time of year where baseless rumors emerge from the depths of Hockey Hell. Naturally, this offseason won’t be any different.
And it hasn’t taken long for one particular rumor to get fans all riled up.
Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette unhinged the hockey world after claiming the Pittsburgh Penguins could trade star winger Phil Kessel “sooner rather than later.” The 29-year-old is coming off a 23-goal, 70-point campaign in which he helped the Penguins win their second straight Stanley Cup. Clearly, Kessel is a key player in Pittsburgh, but it appears the Pens are ready to move on from the polarizing forward.
According to NHL Insider Elliotte Friedman on Toronto’s Sportsnet 590, Cook’s assumption that Kessel could be on his way out of Pittsburgh isn’t totally unrealistic.
He’s at $6.8 million against their cap, yes, because Toronto’s got a chunk of that. But yes, I think that would be a part of it. A couple of guys I was talking to about it yesterday say that Pittsburgh would probably have to eat some of that. I don’t know where you’re looking at a team that would want to take the full $6.8.
But I do think that that speculation has some merit. I think the Penguins have, at the very least, looked at it. I don’t think it’s necessarily a guarantee that it’s going to happen, but I do think Ron Cook, who is the columnist who wrote that, was not wrong, at least in the idea of Pittsburgh investigating it.
Now, Pittsburgh general manager Jim Rutherford has attempted to put those rumors to rest, but we should still take that with a grain of salt.
If Friedman’s correct here (which he almost always is), it appears the Penguins are at least entertaining offers for Kessel. And, as Friedman noted, the biggest issue for the Penguins would be finding a trade partner willing to take Kessel’s huge cap hit.
Maybe, just maybe, the Vegas Golden Knights would be willing to make a deal like this. And there are a few reasons to assume Vegas would make a logical trade partner:
- The Golden Knights have $8,649,168 of cap space, per CapFriendly. With Pittsburgh likely to eat some of Kessel’s cap hit, Vegas would still have a nice cushion keeping them from the cap ceiling.
- Vegas did business with Pittsburgh in June when they agreed to take Marc-Andre Fleury in the expansion draft in exchange for a second-round draft pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Maybe they would be willing to do business with each other again?
- Vegas has the sufficient artillery to make this work. The Golden Knights own a ridiculous 27 draft picks over the next three years. Of those 27 draft picks, 10 of them (!) are first- or second-round selections. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has just five first or second-round selections in the next three drafts. With young stars like Matt Murray, Jake Guentzel and Conor Sheary likely to command a significant pay raise in the future, the Penguins won’t have a ton of money to spend on free agents, meaning they will need to continue building through the draft.
From a Golden Knights perspective, Kessel, one of the top goal-scorers in hockey, would give Vegas a reliable playmaker to add to their top six. Despite having effective forwards like James Neal, Jonathan Marchessault and David Perron already in the fold, the Knights still lack depth up front and could use another source of point production.
Of course, the odds of a trade like this coming to fruition aren’t very high. It still isn’t a guarantee that the Penguins are willing to move Kessel so soon after acquiring him from the Toronto Maple Leafs just a couple years ago, but it’s possible. And as unpredictable as the Golden Knights’ first offseason has been, nothing would be surprising at this point.