NHL Rumor Mill – May 24, 2019
The Penguins and Wild discussed a deal involving Phil Kessel and Jason Zucker. Get the details in today’s NHL rumor mill.
KESSEL TO WILD FOR ZUCKER?
TSN: cited a report by The Athletic’s Josh Yohe claiming the Minnesota Wild made a trade proposal for Pittsburgh Penguins winger Phil Kessel. Winger Jason Zucker is believed to be part of the Wild’s offer. Penguins defenseman Jack Johnson and Wild center Victor Rask were also discussed as part of the deal. Kessel would have to agree to the trade, as the Wild aren’t on his eight-team list of preferred trade destinations.
Pierre LeBrun reports Kessel isn’t leaning toward waiving his no-trade clause to join the Wild but LeBrun isn’t ruling out the possibility. Yohe also said the Arizona Coyotes could be in the mix. Kessel had a good relationship with Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet during the latter’s tenure on the Penguins’ coaching staff. However, the Coyotes uncertain ownership situation is preventing them from making an offer.
PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE/PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW: Matt Vensel reports the swapped salaries would be a close match. Kessel and Johnson carry a combined annual average value of $10.1 million. Zucker and Rask combine for $9.5 million. If this deal doesn’t take place, Vensel believes it’s an indication of the asking price the Penguins are setting for Kessel. Jonathan Bombulie considers the inclusion of Johnson as evidence the Penguins also wish to move a defenseman this summer.
THE ATHLETIC: Before Yohe’s report, his colleague Michael Russo examined possible trade targets for the Wild. Kessel was on that list. Other options could include Toronto’s William Nylander or Kasperi Kapanen and Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This proposed swap of Kessel and Johnson for Zucker and Rask makes the Penguins a little younger and frees up some cap space. I’m puzzled, however, why Wild general manager Paul Fenton would make this pitch.
He’s supposedly rebuilding the Wild with young, cheaper players. That’s why he swapped Nino Niederreiter for Rask, Charlie Coyle for Ryan Donato, and Mikael Granlund for Kevin Fiala this season.
Bringing in Kessel would provide a welcome short-term boost of experience skill to the Wild’s offense. However, he turns 32 in October and approaching the point in his career when a decline in production is inevitable. He’d also be under a much brighter spotlight in Minnesota where he’ll have a bigger profile than he does in Pittsburgh.
Taking on Johnson makes no sense. While he’s got an affordable cap hit ($3.25 million) he’s also got four years left on his contract. Factor in the 32-year-old’s diminished play and that’s a bad contract the Wild would be adding to their payroll.
Rask carries a bigger cap hit ($4 million) and struggled this season. However, he’s under contract for just two more years. At 26, he still has room for improvement.
This deal depends upon Kessel waiving his no-trade clause. If he passes on Minnesota, he could be saving Fenton from making his first bad trade as Wild GM. Whether or not he agrees to join the Wild, we’ve probably seen the last of Kessel in a Penguins sweater.
If that proposal falls through, Fenton will look at other destinations for Zucker. He nearly traded the winger to the Calgary Flames at the trade deadline and could revisit that deal.
Nylander supposedly won’t be dealt as long as Kyle Dubas is Leafs GM. Kapanen, however, could become available if the Leafs can’t afford to re-sign him.
The Lightning must free up cap room to re-sign center Brayden Point. Johnson, however, has a full no-trade clause and could refuse to waive it. Bolts forward J.T. Miller lacks no-trade protection but might not provide that offensive boost the Wild need.