NHL Rumors: Latest Trade Buzz on Phil Kessel, Jeff Skinner and More

Franklin Steele@FranklinSteeleAnalyst IIJune 7, 2018

Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Phil Kessel (81) skates with the puck during the first period in Game 1 of an NHL second-round hockey playoff series against the Washington Capitals, Thursday, April 26, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Nick Wass/Associated Press

While the Vegas Golden Knights and Washington Capitals do battle in the Stanley Cup Final, the 29 other NHL franchises are trying to figure out how to get to that same spot.

The back end of June and the first week or two of July is always an exciting period for hockey fans, spurred on by the entry draft—one of the few times when every general manager is in the same place at the same time during the year—and the beginning of free agency.

It's a dangerous but incredibly important time around the league, with organizations scrambling to fill perceived vacancies via the trade or free-agency route—two of the most dangerous roads to take when it comes to building a champion in the NHL these days.

Namita @nnstats

had a hunch last night that WSH is built through the entry draft more than most other playoff teams - in terms of both time on ice and @hockey_ref's Point Shares, they have a pretty high % of player contribution coming from players they've drafted and developed. https://t.co/JkAOaq0x8N

Still, when quality players such as Phil Kessel, Jeff Skinner and Ryan O'Reilly are possibly available, you can expect managers from around the NHL to at least kick tires.


Phil Kessel's Future as a Pittsburgh Penguin Is in Doubt

Josh Yohe of The Athletic recently reported that "all is not well in the relationship between Kessel and [Pittsburgh Penguins head coach] Mike Sullivan." According to Yohe, the situation between player and coach has become increasingly problematic over the past year, and it has led to various trade rumors involving the sniper.

Adding fuel to the fire were recent comments from Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford, who had every opportunity to say Kessel wasn't going to be traded, but he didn't. While he did tell Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic that speculation was "blown out of proportion," as Tim Benz of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review points out, he never clarified what speculation was being overhyped.

"What speculation was he referring to?" Benz wrote. "The speculation of a trade? Or the speculation over the alleged disconnect between Kessel and head coach Mike Sullivan?"

That's a fair point. If Rutherford knew he wasn't going to trade the wing, then why wouldn't he say so? Instead, he told LeBrun that "I don't feel we have to trade Phil Kessel."

This situation is one worth keeping a close eye on. The Penguins could use some cap space, and Kessel is on the books for $6.8 million per year until 2022, according to CapFriendly. Mucking things up a bit is the forward's modified no-trade clause, which allows Kessel to submit a list of eight teams he would accept a trade to.


Jeff Skinner Could Be Traded as Carolina Hurricanes Seek Toughness

It was evident that changes were coming for the Carolina Hurricanes when owner Tom Dundon spoke with the press after the regular season ended. At the start of April, he told NHL.com correspondent Kurt Dusterberg that he was looking for a specific set of characteristics on his team.

"Either the players have to be tougher or you have to bring in tougher players," he said. "I'm easy. I'll take either one." 

Dundon continued: "We will have to see when they get back [for training camp] if their bodies are bigger, stronger, faster and if their attitudes are consistent with what they told me they will be. I don't think any of them were good enough, so we had that conversation."

That's about as writing-on-the-wall as things get in the NHL.

NHL insider Bob McKenzie spoke about Skinner specifically on his podcast recently, stating that he thought the 26-year-old's days with the Hurricanes were "numbered." Whether the ninth-worst offense in the league (in terms of average goals scored per game) should trade away a player who has led the team in scoring in two out of the past three seasons is another discussion.

Brennan Klak @nhlupdate

Per Pierre LeBrun, #Canes are asking for a 1st + prospect for Jeff Skinner. Considering he's averaged 29.6 goals a season in the last 3 years, that's super reasonable. Someone will pay it.

If Skinner is up for grabs, there will be plenty of suitors. He'll need a new contract after this season, so if Carolina is looking to get as much value as possible out of a trade, then it will likely come sooner rather than later—possibly at the draft.


Buffalo Sabres Aiming High in Possible Ryan O'Reilly Trade

The Buffalo Sabres aren't close to being a playoff team. They finished dead last in the Eastern Conference in 2017-18—a whopping 35 points out from the final wild-card spot—and haven't finished higher than seventh in the Atlantic Division in half a decade.

Quick turnarounds happen (just look at the New Jersey Devils), but those kinds of pieces don't appear to be in place for the Sabres. That could mean O'Reilly is a luxury they don't have to afford. The 27-year-old has five seasons left on a deal that carries a cap hit of $7.5 million.

With Jack Eichel in place as the future of the franchise and a legit postseason run still at least a year or two out, it could make a lot of sense for general manager Jason Botterill to acquire a basket of assets for O'Reilly. Top-six centers rarely become available on the trade market, and the term left on this contract gives the acquiring team tons of control.

Elliotte Friedman was recently on Vancouver's Sportsnet 650, and he had this to say about a potential move involving the pivot (h/t Chris Nichols of FRS Hockey for the transcription):

"I think obviously Jason Botterill was really unhappy at the end of last year. Obviously, Ryan O’Reilly was unhappy at the end of last year. There’s something to that. He’s a center and it’s really hard to find centers. But I think that Botterill is aiming high and he’s going to want to get something really big for him. And until you find somebody who’s willing to pay that price, I mean Botterill could hold."

Finding a rival GM who is willing to trade a bundle of futures and (presumably) young NHL-ready talent is never easy, but if there's a team out there that thinks they are just one center away from taking a run at the Stanley Cup, then O'Reilly is likely the most enticing option available via trade.