Things are starting to get real on the Phil Kessel front
It appears the Penguins have grown tired of the perceived issues they have with Phil Kessel and believe his positives aren’t worth keeping around. Whether that is his lack of defense, the coach being frustrated with him, or whatever else they want to come up with.
Before we get going I want to say a few things that can all be true at the same time
1. Phil Kessel is the Penguins third best forward
2. Phil Kessel cannot be replaced on the power play
3. Phil Kessel is an aging commodity and the Penguins should be re-evaluating his short and long term value to the team every offseason
4. Trading Phil Kessel isn’t an automatically short sighted and stupid move
5. You had better get it right if you are going to trade Phil Kessel
6. Phil Kessel is a super fun player to root for
Ok, so here is the speculation from Josh Yohe’s article
The Penguins and Minnesota Wild have a trade proposal on the table with Phil Kessel as the centerpiece, numerous sources confirmed to The Athletic.
It is believed Jason Zucker, the speedy Wild forward who scored 76 goals the past three seasons, would be part of the deal. Minnesota made it clear to other franchises that Zucker, 27, is available.
The Penguins and Wild also discussed a couple of players with long-term contracts in Jack Johnson and Victor Rask.
Talk about a bittersweet proposal. You have one of the biggest fan favorites in franchise history leaving the team and you also have one of the most pathetic signings in Penguins history leaving after just one year.
I wrote about the Jack Johnson and Victor Rask swap yesterday yesterday
and I don’t think the Penguins do all that well taking Rask’s more expensive contract back. That leaves us with Jason Zucker and Phil Kessel. Zucker is younger, faster, and more of a two way player. However, being a two way player doesn’t automatically make you better than somebody who is an excellent one-way player. Phil Kessel is a point per game player and just registered his two best point total seasons the previous two years (92, 82 respectively). His one dimension is pretty damn good.
Since Jason Zucker has become a full-time NHL player in 2014-15 he has put up the following point totals
2014-15 26 (21)
2015-16 23 (13)
2016-17 47 (22)
2017-18 64 (33)
2018-19 42 (21)
I put the goal totals in parentheses.
So his 2017-18 season sticks out, but when I see a big departure from career norms the first thing I look for is shooting percentage and it was a career high of 14.9%. What makes this not as bad as some other players is his career percentage is 12.1%. A lot of times career years are way off the career rates and this isn’t the case with Zucker.
Zucker’s offense at even-strength has been quite the roller coaster
The good is good and the bad is bad. The reason players like Kessel are so valuable is because they are consistent producers. Also, Kessel is an elite passer and is great in transition. This is something that cannot and will not be replaced if he is moved
This passing is also a huge reason why the Penguins power play is as dynamic as it is. Pittsburgh never really had a good presence on the left side of their power play and Phil's presence is elite. Their power play would need a huge revamp without Kessel in how they go about their business.
Zucker isn’t without his positives.
Zucker thrived playing under Bruce Boudreau. What makes this comparison more favorable for Zucker is he is a positive relative xGF% player each of the last four seasons and by quite a bit while Kessel has been a negative each of the last five.
Jason Zucker is also able to play all three forward positions so I can see the allure in acquiring a player like him. This gives flexibility to place Zucker and Nick Bjugstad on the wing or at center.
As far as money Zucker has four more years at 5.5M and Rask has three more at 4M for a total of 9.5M. Kessel has three more years at 6.8M and Johnson has four more at 3.25M at 10.05M. There really isn’t much of a cap savings for the Penguins.
Finding a team and a player for a Phil Kessel trade was never going to be an easy proposition. Phil playing his college hockey in Minneosta and being friends with Zach Parise and Ryan Suter opens the door to a Wild trade. I do think Jason Zucker is an intriguing player for such a limited market. However, I don’t like the 750k bump from Johnson to Rask and quite frankly I don’t think there should be a pressing need to move Phil Kessel. If this is because of a rift with the coach the coach should be the one leaving town. NHL coaches are a dime a dozen for the most part and nothing about Mike Sullivan’s tenure has shown me he is a top tier coach. He isn’t bad, but certainly not worth tension with players like Kessel and Evgeni Malkin.
I would roll the dice and bet on Kessel having another very productive offensive season. He does things that cannot be replaced. He is a unique talent. He is still a very good value at 6.8M. Just look at the Brock Nelson signing from today (6x6).
The most important thing to remember in all of this is if you trade Phil Kessel you no longer have Phil Kessel.
Thanks for reading!