The Arizona Coyotes have already made one notable trade this offseason, but should they make a move to acquire Phil Kessel?
Phil Kessel is coming off an excellent season for the Pittsburgh Penguins, with a career-high 92 points (34 goals, 58 assists). But rumors of a rift with head coach Mike Sullivan brought trade rumors after the Penguins were eliminated from the playoffs, which general manager Jim Rutherford only recently attempted to put to bed.
The root of Kessel’s discontent is apparently not playing alongside Evgeni Malkin full-time. But it didn’t seem to hamper his productivity this past season, and Kessel’s reputation as a pain in the butt in “the room” precedes him. Maybe a change of scenery would be good for him.
According to Josh Yohe of The Athletic, Kessel is open to a trade out of Pittsburgh. He has a limited no-trade clause, with a list of eight teams he’d accept a trade to submitted by him each year. But Yohe further reports Kessel would be willing to go to the Arizona Coyotes, where former Penguins assistant coach Rick Tocchet is heading toward his second season as head coach.
The Coyotes aren’t likely to be a Stanley Cup contender next year, or anything close. But they do appear to have gotten the better end of a recent trade with the Montreal Canadiens, as they acquired Alex Galchenyuk and gave up the underachieving Max Domi. Galchenyuk is expected to slot in as Arizona’s No. 2 center, with Derek Stepan remaining on the top line right now with 2018 Calder Trophy finalist Clayton Keller (65 points this past season) on his right wing.
Kessel has four years left on the eight-year, $64 million deal he signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Penguins are carrying a slightly more reasonable annual cap hit of $6.8 million, after Toronto retained a portion to facilitate moving Kessel so early in the deal.
That $6.8 million cap hit for the next four years, with Kessel entering his age-31 season, could get bad quickly. But the Coyotes have projected cap space of just over $18 million for 2018-19 right now (via Cap Friendly), so they can take on Kessel’s cap hit without obvious issue. A reported contract extension for defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson wouldn’t take effect until 2019-20.
Kessel seems to be available for the right price, and trade speculation is set to ramp up further heading into the first round of the draft Friday night. The No. 5 overall pick should be a non-starter from Arizona’s end, though, with the opportunity to add an upper echelon prospect (Brady Tkachuk?).
Arizona’s top six forwards and power play improved notably with the addition of Galchenyuk, who was misused toward the end of his tenure in Montreal. If Kessel were brought to the desert to reunite with Tocchet, the Coyotes’ top lines and power play would become deeper and possibly downright dangerous.