Top 5 Potential Trade Destinations for Arizona Coyotes Winger Phil Kessel
After two seasons with the Arizona Coyotes, right winger Phil Kessel could be on the move this summer.
On May 12, NHL.com's Dan Rosen was asked if the Coyotes will explore trading the 33-year-old now that Rick Tocchet is no longer their head coach. Rosen believes they will, suggesting Tocchet's departure signals their intent to build around a younger team.
Six days later, AZ Coyotes Insider Craig Morgan speculated Kessel might even welcome a trade. The veteran winger said he hadn't really thought about it, but Morgan believes otherwise.
Morgan thinks Kessel could have some value in this summer's trade market. He led the Coyotes with 20 goals and 43 points in 56 games this season. He's been a model of offensive consistency, tallying 20-plus goals and 40-or-more points a dozen times during his 15 NHL seasons.
Kessel is also a year away from unrestricted free agent eligibility. Morgan observed he's due to receive a $5 million signing bonus on July 1. Armstrong could opt to try to move Kessel before his bonus is due, but interested teams would likely prefer to let the Coyotes pick that up.
The full annual average value of Kessel's contract is $8 million, but the Coyotes are carrying $6.8 million. That's because the Toronto Maple Leafs retained $1.2 million annually when they traded him to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2015. Once his bonus is paid, he'll only be owed $1 million in actual salary for next season. Still, the Coyotes might have to retain a portion of his cap hit to facilitate a trade.
It could be difficult finding a suitable trade partner for Kessel. He turns 34 in October, his cap hit still remains tough to move under a flattened cap and he has an eight-team no-trade list. The Coyotes won't get a big return for him at this stage of his career. Rosen suggested he could fetch some much-needed draft picks but not a first-rounder.
Still, there could be some clubs seeking some experienced short-term scoring depth this summer. Here's a look at the top five possible trade destinations for Phil Kessel, assuming none of them are on his no-trade list. Roster need and salary-cap space factored into this ranking.
5. Florida Panthers
The trade: Kessel to the Florida Panthers in exchange for defenseman Markus Nutivaara and a fourth-round pick. The Coyotes retain $2 million of Kessel's cap hit.
Cap space would be an issue for the Panthers as they carry $71.8 million invested in 23 players for 2021-22. Moving Nutivaara would free up $2.7 million, providing the Coyotes with a potential replacement for a pending free-agent blueliner such as Niklas Hjalmarsson, Alex Goligoski or Jason Demers.
Getting Kessel to waive his no-trade clause to join the Panthers shouldn't be an issue because he lives in Florida during the offseason. The opportunity to play for a postseason contender there would make it more enticing.
The Panthers were among this season's highest-scoring clubs, finishing fifth with a goals-per-game average of 3.36. They could, however, load up for next season in anticipation of a deep playoff run.
The Panthers are thin on established scorers at right wing. Patrick Hornqvist (32 points) played with Kessel during their days with the Pittsburgh Penguins but now skates on the Panthers' third line. Anthony Duclair (32 points), Frank Vatrano (26 points) and Owen Tippett (18 points) lack Kessel's experience and consistency.
Kessel saw a big jump in his production during his years with the talent-laden Penguins, winning two Stanley Cups in the process. History could repeat itself playing with Panthers stars like Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau.
4. Dallas Stars
The trade: Kessel to the Dallas Stars in exchange for winger Joel Kiviranta and a fourth-round pick. Coyotes retain $2.8 million of Kessel's cap hit.
A skilled winger like Kessel could help the Stars get back on track next season. Kiviranta could provide the Coyotes with an affordable two-way forward in his mid-20s who can play either wing. They also shed most of Kessel's cap hit, using that extra space for other moves.
After reaching the Stanley Cup Final last year, the Dallas Stars failed to qualify for the 2021 playoffs. Their limited scoring was a factor in their struggles, finishing 18th in goals per game (2.79). It proved costly in overtime as they led the league with 14 losses in the extra frame.
Losing Tyler Seguin for all but three games to hip surgery contributed to their scoring woes. So did the decline in the production of captain Jamie Benn and Denis Gurianov. Forward Roope Hintz was hampered throughout the season by a nagging groin injury.
On May 14, Matthew DeFranks of The Dallas Morning News reported improving their scoring is a priority for the Stars. General manager Jim Nill told DeFranks he's likely to add someone if the right fit could be found. If that player can't be found via free agency, Nill could consider going the trade route.
The Stars have $64.6 million committed to 14 players for 2021-22 with restricted free agent Miro Heiskanen as their priority signing. They could free up $3.33 million in cap space if goaltender Anton Khudobin is selected by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft or moved in a trade with another club. If the Coyotes retain a portion of Kessel's cap hit there could be room to fit him within their payroll.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets
The trade: Kessel to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for a third-round and a fifth-round pick in the 2021 NHL draft.
Kessel won't address the Columbus Blue Jackets' need for an established first-line center. However, he could provide some short-term help for their anemic offense if management cannot find a quality center via trade or free agency.
Despite the additions of winger Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic in January, the Jackets' 2.39 goals-per-game average was 29th overall while their 15.4 power-play percentage was 27th. They must boost their scoring depth if they hope to reach the playoffs next season.
Kessel produced without a proven scoring center during his six seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs and his two campaigns with the Coyotes. He could develop chemistry on a line with Jackets centers such as Roslovic or Max Domi.
With $55.7 million invested in 15 players for next season, the Jackets have room to re-sign Laine this summer and bring in a short-term scorer like Kessel if he waives his no-trade clause. They won't part with one of their three first-round picks in this year's draft and lack a second-rounder. They can afford to include a fifth-rounder from this year's draft because they have an additional one acquired from the New Jersey Devils.
2. Anaheim Ducks
The trade: Kessel to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for center Adam Henrique.
This deal involves moving two veterans who might both welcome a change of scenery. Henrique has three seasons remaining on his contract with an annual average value of $5.825 million and a 10-team no-trade list.
Henrique, 31, is a versatile forward who can play center or wing and is two years younger than Kessel. He's tallied 20-plus goals five times in his 11 NHL seasons but struggled at times this season. With the Ducks transitioning young players in the lineup, he might be a good fit with the Coyotes.
The Ducks have spent the past four seasons among the NHL's lowest-scoring teams. They hit rock bottom in 2020-21, finishing last in goals-per-game (2.21) while their power play percentage was a league-worst 8.9. Only two players (Henrique and Max Comtois) finished in double-digits in goal scoring and neither of them reached 20 goals.
On May 11, The Athletic's Eric Stephens suggested adding a scorer should be among the Ducks' offseason priorities. He proposed pursuing younger forwards such as the Buffalo Sabres' Sam Reinhart. If such options cannot be found, adding a veteran like Kessel for at least one year could be a reasonable short-term alternative.
The Ducks have $59 million invested in 13 players for 2021-22. They could get an additional $6.875 million in cap relief if necessary should Ryan Kesler remain on long-term injury reserve. That would give them sufficient space to absorb Kessel's cap hit for next season.
Kessel would provide promising young center Trevor Zegras with an experienced scoring winger next season. If he pans out with the Ducks, perhaps he'd be open to an affordable short-term contract.
1. Los Angeles Kings
The trade: Kessel to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for the second-round pick in this year's draft originally belonging to the St. Louis Blues and the third-round pick acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Kessel could be a good addition to a Kings offense whose 2.54 goals-per-game average was 27th overall this season. He could slot in on the top line alongside first-line center Anze Kopitar or skate alongside young second Gabriel Vilardi on the second line. With $20 million in cap space, they can afford Kessel's cap hit.
The Kings spent the past two seasons rebuilding with promising young players. However, general manager Rob Blake is starting to feel the pressure from two of his veteran leaders to accelerate the process.
Drew Doughty said he and long-time core members Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Jonathan Quick are running out of time to make another run at the Stanley Cup. The 31-year-old defenseman indicated they're getting sick of losing, calling upon management to use their cap space and prospects to bring in more immediate help.
Blake appears willing to consider that option. On May 19, Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times reported the Kings GM acknowledged Doughty's comments. “It's the same feeling up here,” he said.
The Kings GM could prefer younger scoring options who fit into the Kings' long-term future. If those players aren't available, adding a still-effective scorer like Kessel for one year without giving up a first-rounder or top prospect could be a decent stop-gap measure.